Mar 23, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
ST. LOUIS — For the entire season, Kentucky dealt with adversity as the Wildcats faced the pressures of being the preseason No. 1 team in the country with seven McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster. John Calipari’s team finished a disappointing 24-10 in the regular season, but with Sunday’s game against unbeaten No. 1 seed Wichita State, Kentucky had a chance to quiet its critics and get another shot at rival and defending champion Louisville.
The Wildcats (26-10) responded by playing their best game of the season as they ended the Shockers’ perfect season with a 78-76 win to advance to the Sweet 16 in the Midwest Regional.
Wichita State finishes the season 35-1, their last loss coming in the Final Four to Louisville last season.
RELATED: Just how good can this Kentucky team be?
In a game that was rife with story lines and intrigue, in what was arguably the most eagerly anticipated game of the college basketball season, the Shockers and the Wildcats delivered.
This was the game of the year.
In the midst of a back-and-forth second half, Wichita State senior forward Cleanthony Early knocked in back-to-back three-point attempts from the right wing to give the Shockers a 69-64 lead with 4:36 remaining. Kentucky responded by pounding the ball inside using the drive — or hitting the offensive glass — on its next few possessions to draw fouls and make free throws and freshman wing James Young’s runner gave the Wildcats a 70-69 lead with 2:50 remaining.
Early (31 points, six rebounds) responded with a bucket of his own to give the Shockers the lead again at 71-70, but Young (13 points, eight rebounds) answered the Early bucket with a contested three-pointer from the right wing to give Kentucky a 73-71 lead with 1:41 remaining.
After a Tekele Cotton (five points, five assists) missed three-pointer for the Shockers, Young corralled the defensive rebound and Kentucky freshman point guard Andrew Harrison (20 points) was fouled attacking the basket and made both free throws to give Kentucky a 75-71 lead. The Shockers responded on the other end with sophomore guard Ron Baker’s unlikely banked made three-pointer to cut Kentucky’s lead to 75-74 with 29 seconds remaining.
After dominating the early part of the second half with a tremendous all-around performance, Kentucky freshman forward Julius Randle (13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists) was fouled with 22 seconds left and made both free throws to give the Wildcats a 77-74 lead.
Baker (20 points, five rebounds) missed the tying three-point attempt on the other end but Early was fouled on the offensive rebound and made two free throws to make the game 77-76, Kentucky.
Andrew Harrison was fouled by Baker with 7.2 seconds remaining and split a pair at the line and Wichita State grabbed the defensive rebound as sophomore point guard Fred VanVleet (four points, four rebounds, six assists) raced across the timeline and called timeout to set up a final play with three seconds remaining.
VanVleet missed a potential game-winning three-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to give Kentucky the 78-76 victory.
Kentucky freshman shooting guard Aaron Harrison added 19 points in the win as the Wildcats shot 54 percent from the field (27-for-50) and 44 percent from three-point range (8-for-18).
Wichita State responded with 56 percent shooting from the field (27-for-48) and 47 percent from the three-point line (10-for-21) but fell one basket short on the game’s final possession
The game lived up to its incredible hype as it might be regarded as one of the best Round of 32 games that we’ll ever witness. Kentucky finally played up to its season-long potential while Wichita State played a tremendous game despite falling just short of maintaining their perfect record.
May 25, 2015, 11:48 AM EDT
Bridges is considering hometown schools as well as a pair of blue-bloods.
May 25, 2015, 11:04 AM EDT
Will Maker ever make it to college?
May 24, 2015, 7:29 PM EDT
Arizona State’s “Curtain of Distraction” made an appearance as well.
May 24, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
The last two decades were a special time for the Donovan family, who thanked the supporters who helped make it all possible.
Minneapolis EYBL Day 1: Harry Giles continues impressive spring, Dennis Smith and De’Aaron Fox battle
May 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
The final session of the Nike EYBL tipped in Minneapolis on Saturday.
May 24, 2015, 11:30 AM EDT
Pitt added a big man who can play right away next season.
May 24, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT
Two of the best in the 2016 class battle in the Under Armour Association.
May 24, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
Already thin at the point, the situation becomes even tougher for first-year head coach Chris Mullin if this turns out to be the case.
May 23, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT
A Big 12 and a Big Ten program are among those due who have reached out to the 7-foot-2 Fairfield Prep (Connecticut) product.
May 23, 2015, 7:32 PM EDT
Colorado’s Tad Boyle doesn’t like the proposed shot clock change, and he made a good point about the physical nature of college basketball today.
May 23, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT
Les led the Aggies to a school-record (Division I era) 25 wins and their first Big West regular season title last season.
May 23, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Noah Dickerson had previously committed to Georgetown and Florida.
May 23, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
The former Wolverine could remain in the Big Ten.
May 23, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
The Wisconsin big man averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his last two seasons.
May 23, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
The sophomore guard missed the final 12 games of the season.
May 23, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT
He is the younger brother of former UCLA Bruin Shabazz Muhammad.
May 22, 2015, 10:30 PM EDT
Nevada landed an impact transfer that could help at guard after next season.
May 22, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Arizona will have some intriguing home-and-home games to go along with an in-season tournament.
May 22, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
Cliff Alexander might have returned for his sophomore season if the NCAA had not been involved.
May 22, 2015, 7:00 PM EDT
Kentucky promoted a familiar face for the open assistant spot.
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer 5
- North Carolina announces receipt of Notice of Allegations from NCAA 2
- LSU’s ’25 is coming’ campaign doesn’t try to hide that they’re monetizing Ben Simmons 1
- Looking Forward: Catching up on the American’s offseason 1
- Five-star center Caleb Swanigan has committed to Purdue 8
- Friday’s most important rule changes only matter if refs actually enforce them 2
- Looking Forward: Catching up on the SEC’s offseason 1
- Sports book lists Maryland as early favorite to win national title (9)
- Five-star center Caleb Swanigan has committed to Purdue (8)
- John Calipari is selling his program when he says national title isn’t a goal (5)
- Frank Kaminsky writes a farewell letter to Wisconsin fans (5)
- Academic issues expected to sideline St. John’s point guard for fall semester, maybe longer (5)