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.
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.
Jan 25, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Eight days after attempting 25 three-pointers in their loss to No. 5 Duke, the Cardinals attempted just 12 and scored 40 points in the paint against Pittsburgh.
Three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining completes second-half rally for No. 20 Northern Iowa (VIDEO)
Jan 25, 2015, 6:24 PM EST
UNI erased a 12-point second half deficit to win at Illinois State, and they remain a game behind No. 14 Wichita State in the Missouri Valley standings.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:38 PM EST
Chris Perry leads the Bulls in rebounding, and chest pains suffered during the team’s workout Saturday resulted in his having to be hospitalized.
Jan 25, 2015, 5:09 PM EST
Also of note on Sunday was Ohio State picking up its first RPI Top 50 win of the season.
Jan 25, 2015, 4:13 PM EST
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski picked up career win No. 1,000 as the No. 5 Blue Devils bested St. John’s.
Jan 25, 2015, 2:30 PM EST
Well-traveled former Ole Miss guard Derrick Millinghaus has found a new home.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:21 PM EST
Kentucky is on the board in the 2016 class with a highly-touted big man from New Zealand.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
A former four-star prospect is heading to Rhode Island.
Jan 25, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
A former Miami point guard is finding tremendous success on the football field and is a even being talked about as a first-rounder in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jan 25, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
One of the best big men in the 2016 class could decide between three powerhouse programs on Sunday.
Jan 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
Coach K goes for win No. 1,000 against St. John’s and a fun battle of elite freshmen guards in the Big Ten are Sunday’s highlights.
Jan 25, 2015, 1:05 AM EST
I feel comfortable saying I’m a better dancer than Josh Pastner. Not by much, though.
Jan 24, 2015, 11:58 PM EST
Get caught up on everything that has happened in college basketball on Saturday.
Northwestern State staff wears special pants for ‘Suits and Sneakers’ game against McNeese State (PHOTO)
Jan 24, 2015, 11:34 PM EST
The pants worn by the coaching staff were one of the highlights in Northwestern State’s 92-68 win over McNeese State.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:31 PM EST
Crawford and his teammates are looking to rebound from the 18-point loss they suffered at Tulsa Wednesday night.
Jan 24, 2015, 9:20 PM EST
Peel finished the game with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks as the Blue Devils picked up their first win in NEC play.
Jan 24, 2015, 8:34 PM EST
Baylor really needed this win, but Oklahoma has now lost three of their last four.
Jan 24, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The Tribe bounced back from a loss at Delaware earlier in the week to move into a tie for first in the CAA.
Jan 24, 2015, 6:46 PM EST
Texas Tech hit its first five three-pointers and led by as many as 19 points in the first half of their 78-73 win over the Cyclones.
Jan 24, 2015, 5:20 PM EST
Bonkers is the only way to describe this finish.
- Coach K earns career win No. 1,000 in No. 5 Duke’s win over St. John’s 0
- Kentucky lands commitment from international Class of 2016 big man 0
- Saturday’s Snacks: No. 18 West Virginia, Georgetown win absolute thrillers 0
- No. 11 Kansas makes a statement blowing out No. 17 Texas 1
- Bracket Update: Upcoming stretch could have major impact on Duke’s NCAA seeding 2
- Sister’s illness makes for a bittersweet homecoming for Tulsa head coach Frank Haith 0
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