Three years after unbeaten Wichita State fell to talent-laden, underseeded Kentucky in a classic second-round matchup, the Shockers couldn’t quite get the revenge they craved.
They stormed back from a late seven-point deficit to pull within one in the final minute, but they lost 65-62 because they could not generate the clean look they needed to retake the lead.
With no timeouts remaining and the shot clock under 10, Markis McDuffie tried to get Malik Monk on his heels with a hard dribble to the right, but the Kentucky freshman recovered quickly and blocked the Wichita State sophomore’s 3-point attempt. The Shockers had one final chance to tie after Monk sank a pair of free throws, but Bam Adebayo swatted away Landry Shamet’s heavily contested, desperation 3-point attempt just before the buzzer sounded.
Second-seeded Kentucky’s two massive defensive stops were a fitting finish to an Elite Eight-caliber game we probably shouldn’t have seen until next weekend. Wichita State won 31 games and cracked the top 15 in every major advanced metric, yet the Shockers received a No. 10 seed from the selection committee because they lacked the marquee wins many of the teams seeded ahead of them had.
If Wichita State’s opening-round victory over Dayton wasn’t proof it was underseeded, the way the Shockers played SEC champ Kentucky nearly dead even offered further evidence.
They harassed the Wildcats into 41.8 percent shooting, out-battled them on the offensive glass and matched them clutch 3-pointer for clutch 3-pointer down the stretch. Only a few costly turnovers midway through the second half enabled Kentucky to build a late seven-point cushion, just enough to hold off the hard-charging Shockers down the stretch.
The result was reminiscent of the 2014 matchup when Wichita State’s undefeated season ended at the hands of a Kentucky team that would go on to make the Final Four. On that day, the Shockers had a chance to win at the buzzer, but Fred VanVleet’s top-of-the-key 3-pointer caromed hard off the rim.
That Wichita State could go nose-to-nose with Kentucky again in what was supposed to be a transition season is a testament to the program coach Gregg Marshall has built. The Shockers graduated program pillars VanVleet and Ron Baker last spring, yet they hardly slipped at all on either end of the floor.
Wichita State finished in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency thanks to a front line that contested shots at the rim and an athletic perimeter corps that prided itself on staying in front of opposing guards. The Shockers were also top 15 nationally in offensive efficiency because of a balanced offense led by McDuffie and Shamet.
Give Kentucky credit for thwarting Wichita State’s upset bid and advancing to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time in eight seasons under John Calipari.
The Wildcats could still have to face UCLA and North Carolina just to get to the Final Four, but at least one leg of their South Region gauntlet is now behind them.
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