Mar 23, 2014, 5:31 PM EST
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.
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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.
Nov 24, 2014, 1:10 AM EST
No. 1 Kentucky set a new school record, Ohio State’s Shannon Scott broke Aaron Craft’s single-game assist record and more.
Nov 24, 2014, 12:15 AM EST
‘Buckets’ earned his nickname because he gets … buckets.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:49 PM EST
A week that began with a win at No. 7 Florida ended with a commanding victory over Charlotte at the Gildan Charleston Classic.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST
West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST
The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.
Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST
Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.
Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST
With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST
Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.
Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST
House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST
Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST
Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST
Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.
Nov 23, 2014, 1:10 PM EST
The high school ranks gave us a great dunk this weekend.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.
Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST
Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.
Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)
Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST
This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.
Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST
Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.
Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST
Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.
Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 AM EST
No. 21 Nebraska was the lone ranked team to fall on Saturday, but give them credit for being willing to go on the road to play a dangerous opponent.
Nov 23, 2014, 12:05 AM EST
Devin Davis has been rehabbing from injuries suffered on November 1 when he was struck by a car driven by teammate Emmitt Holt.
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