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.
Jul 6, 2015, 10:25 PM EDT
Northwestern continues to get good local pick-ups in the 2016 class.
Jul 6, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
La Salle is losing an experienced guard to transfer.
Jul 6, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
One of Tennessee’s only options at point guard is enrolling closer to the school year.
Jul 6, 2015, 5:45 PM EDT
One of the better shooting guards in the country is focused on 10 schools.
Jul 6, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Michigan is going with the Jumpman under its new apparel agreement.
Jul 6, 2015, 2:48 PM EDT
Kentucky had led the nation in average attendance for eight straight years.
Jul 6, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
The top three in this group is debatable.
Jul 6, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Jonathan Isaac is loaded with potential.
Jul 6, 2015, 11:23 AM EDT
The front of the jersey said Kansas before.
Jul 6, 2015, 10:13 AM EDT
Two of the nation’s best high schoolers square off.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT
Thibodeaux’s decision came eight days after he began basic training.
Jul 5, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
All of the violations were deemed to be Level III or Level IV violations, which isn’t a big deal at all.
Jul 5, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
Plenty of college basketball players were in the FIBA U19 World Championships besides the Americans.
Jul 5, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT
The USA U19 team captured back-to-back FIBA World Championships for the first time since 1983.
Jul 5, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT
Mississippi State landed a commitment on Sunday from a transfer.
Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Kansas (USA) is 2-0 so far at the World University Games.
Jul 5, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Markelle Fultz is one the best guard prospects in the country.
Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Mathiang’s playing on an Australian team that includes the likes of Peter Hooley and Hugh Greenwood.
Jul 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
The 6-foot-9 Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.
Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
Jalen Brunson led the way with 30 points for the United States, which plays Croatia Sunday.
- Re-ranking Recruiting Classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2009? 1
- Florida State lands commitment from five-star 2016 prospect 0
- USA U19 team wins in overtime of gold-medal game over Croatia at FIBA World Championships 0
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2008? 1
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players in the Class of 2007? 1
- Re-ranking the recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2006? 0
- Re-ranking recruiting classes: Who are the 25 best players from the Class of 2005? 1
- Bill Self impresses South Korean students with jumper (VIDEO) (3)
- Senior mixtape of 7-foot-6 UCF incoming freshman Tacko Fall (VIDEO) (2)
- Rick Barnes finally addresses accusations against Texas (2)
- Steph Curry misses a dunk staring at his phone, runs to camera to see it (VIDEO) (2)
- Alabama self-reported 13 minor violations last academic year, including one for men’s basketball (2)