Missouri St.-Wichita St. Preview

PAUL DIGIACOMO (STATS Senior Editor)
The Associated Press

Wichita State is two victories shy of matching the NCAA record of 34 wins to start a season. Standing in the way is a Missouri State squad that has come the closest to handing the nation's second-ranked team a loss in 2013-14.

The Shockers look to inch one step closer to accomplishing that goal and advance to the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game when they meet the Bears in the semifinals Saturday.

Wichita State improved to 32-0 with another easy win Friday in the quarterfinals, 80-58 over ninth-seeded Evansville. If the Shockers beat No. 4 seed Missouri State (20-11) and win the MVC title game Sunday, they will tie UNLV's 1990-91 team for the best start to a season. UNLV was perfect before losing to Duke in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

"I love how this team goes about their business, their approach and how resolute they are," coach Gregg Marshall said. "They're really, really focused and locked in to the next challenge, and that's how you win 32 in a row."

The Shockers last won the conference tournament in 1987 and lost in the semis both times they've been the No. 1 seed - in 2006 and 2012.

This season, all but six of their victories are by double digits. The closest call was a 72-69 overtime win at Missouri State on Jan. 11 in which the Bears blew a 19-point lead.

Wichita State had an easier time against Missouri State in the regular-season finale last Saturday, winning 68-45 behind Cleanthony Early's 19 points.

Early and Ron Baker scored 17 points apiece as the Shockers set a MVC tournament record with 11 blocked shots Friday. Senior center Kadeem Coleby had six blocks, and conference player of the year Fred VanVleet had nine points, five assists and four steals.

"This team is very unselfish," Baker said after no one on the Shockers took more than 11 shots. "If we continue to play like that, I like our chances."

Baker was 4 for 6 from 3-point range and Tekele Cotton was 3 for 5. Chadrack Lufile had 11 points and seven rebounds, and Early added six rebounds and two blocks.

"I don't tell good players to pass on good shots," Marshall said. "When it's your turn to shoot and you're open, I want you to shoot it, and, in fact, I get upset with them when they don't.

"I think they've got character, for sure."

Missouri State was led Friday by freshman guard Austin Ruder, who matched his career high with 21 points as the Bears beat fifth-seeded Illinois State 53-48 in the quarterfinals.

Ruder hit one of his six 3-pointers with 2:05 left to put Missouri State up 48-46, and Keith Pickens had a tip-in to make it 50-46 with 42 seconds remaining.

The Bears have posted their two worst shooting performances of the season in back-to-back games. They made 32.7 percent of their attempts Friday after shooting 31.4 percent against Wichita State last weekend.