3:07 PM ET, March 23, 2014
Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Missouri
ST. LOUIS -- John Calipari stood frozen on the Kentucky sideline. Every player on the Wichita State bench held his breath. Everything seemed to stop inside the Scottrade Center as Fred VanVleet let loose with a 3-pointer that could have kept the Shockers perfect.
When it bounced harmlessly off the rim, everything was set in motion once again.
Calipari spontaneously leaped into the air, bad hip and all, as the eighth-seeded Wildcats poured off their bench to celebrate their 78-76 victory over the Midwest Region's top seed.
The boys from Wichita State slumped to their seats, their faces buried in their jerseys.
"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari said later. "You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."
It certainly had that kind of drama.
Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to play bitter rival Louisville on Friday in Indianapolis, at long last looking like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
"You're going to go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one. It's tough to see us go out like this," Baker said. "At the end of the day, someone's got to go home."
The showdown Sunday matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national titles, against a gritty bunch of upstarts from Wichita State that was trying to become the first team to finish off a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.
Delivering A Shock
Kentucky happily dealt Wichita State its first loss of the season in the third round of the NCAA tournament, joining two other teams to topple an undefeated team.
Teams to Defeat an Unbeaten Team in NCAA Tournament
Since Seeding Began in 1979
Since Seeding Began in 1979
|Year||Winner||Unbeaten Team||Tourney Result|
|1979||Michigan State||Indiana State||Won Title|
|--ESPN Stats & Information|
The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky finally taking a 73-71 lead when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more foul shots for the Wildcats.
"Both teams were making plays," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said later, his voice sounding tired. "Back and forth, back and forth."
Early's two free throws with 9.8 seconds left got the Shockers within 77-76, and they got their chance to add another chapter to their miraculous story when Andrew Harrison made the second of two free throws and Early pulled down the rebound.
VanVleet raced up court and called timeout with 3.2 seconds left.
Marshall drew up a play that had Tekele Cotton inbounding the ball to VanVleet, and after a couple dribbles he took a shot from the top of the key. But it was wide the entire way, clanking off the rim and sending the Wildcats pouring onto the court to celebrate.
"We just felt so good beating a great team," said Andrew Harrison, who considered sitting the game out after hurting his elbow in a second-round win over Kansas State. "It shows how much work we've put in, how much we're getting better."
Kentucky was successful early using its superior size, not only in the paint but also on the perimeter, where the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins dwarfed the 5-11 VanVleet. But after the Wildcats took a 19-15 lead midway through the half, Wichita State ramped up its trademark defense, forcing a series of turnovers and getting right back in the game.
VanVleet was the catalyst. On one sequence late in the half, he stripped Aaron Harrison and hit Early in transition, and he was fouled slamming over 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein. Early made the free throw as the Shockers built a 37-31 lead at the half.
"I just feel like I'm always there when my team needs me," said Early, who was the breakout star of the Shockers' Final Four run a year ago. "We feed off each other in positive ways."
Early hit another 3-pointer right out of the locker room to match the Shockers' biggest lead at 40-31. But VanVleet picked up his third foul moments later, and Kentucky took advantage of the Shockers missing their floor general by gradually pulling ahead.
"I would have liked to have been a little more aggressive," VanVleet said. "We had to switch some matchups at the end because of my foul trouble. It's hard to play like that."
The game remained a back-and-forth prizefight the rest of the way, neither team leading by more than five, each answering the other with clutch 3-pointers and pressure-filled free throws.
It only made sense that the game would come down to the final possession.
"I feel for their team and I feel for their coach," Calipari said. "I'm happy we won. I'm happy for our guys. And I'm disappointed, because they had a heck of a run."
NCAA Mens Tournament
ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 23: Andrew Harrison #5 of the Kentucky Wildcats drives up the court against Fred VanVleet #23...(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Around Champ Week
Deciding factor: Kentucky's freshmen grew up and showed poise down the stretch of a neck-and-neck game. Four of the Wildcats' five freshmen starters combined for 65 of the Wildcats' 78 points.
Player of the game: Andrew Harrison played through a right elbow injury and scored 20 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He also knocked down seven of nine free throws.
Key stat:The Wildcats' superior size shone through in the rebounding column as they grabbed 32 rebounds while the Shockers only had 23.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||27-50 (.540)||27-49 (.551)|
|3P Made-Attempted||8-18 (.444)||10-21 (.476)|
|FT Made-Attempted||16-22 (.727)||12-18 (.667)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||15 (0/0)||21 (0/0)|
|» Mar 23, 2014||UK 78, @WICH 76||Recap|
With Florida and Kentucky already in, if Tennessee beats Mercer tonight, that'll make 3 SEC teams playing in the Sweet 16. The SEC hasn't had 3 teams playing in the Sweet 16 since 2007.
Kentucky's 78 points against Wichita State is the most the Shockers allowed all season. Wichita State had only allowed 5 teams to score 70 or more previously.
Kentucky's freshmen combined for 68 points, the fourth-most in any NCAA Tournament game.[+]
Most Points by Freshmen - Single Game in NCAA Tournament History
Julius Randle recorded his 22nd double-double of the season, most in the nation. Randle had more offensive rebounds (5) and second-chance points (6) than Wichita State. He also had a career-high six assists.
Wichita State's incredible year saw the Shockers set a record for consecutive wins in a single season, surpassing a pair of legendary squads that also came up short in March.[+]
Longest Win Streak in Single Season - NCAA Tournament Era (Since 1938-39 Season)
Julius Randle is the fifth different player to record 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists in a win over a No. 1 seed.[+]
10 Points, 10 Rebounds, 5 Assists - In NCAA Tournament Win vs 1 Seed
Julius Randle now has 22 double-doubles, tied for the 3rd most by a freshman in Division I history[+]
Most Double-Doubles by Freshman - Division I History
Cleanthony Early (WICH): 31 Pts... 1st player to score 30 points against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament since 1999 (Ryan Robertson of Kansas scored 31 in a loss to Kentucky in the 1999 Round of 32)
Cleanthony Early tied the Wichita State record for points in an NCAA Tournament game with 31 Sunday against Kentucky. Kelly Pete also scored 31 for Wichita in 1965 vs SMU.
There have only been two matchups more common than Kentucky-Louisville in NCAA tournament history.[+]
Most Head-To-Head Meetings - NCAA Tournament History
ESPN Stats & Information