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.
Oct 26, 2014, 12:21 AM EDT
Indiana’s nine newcomers received their candy-striped warmup pants from former IU players Saturday night.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:24 PM EDT
Pat Birt was a Horizon League All-Freshman Team selection at UIC last season.
Oct 25, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
Keifer Sykes is one of the best dunkers in America, and he was at it again Saturday afternoon.
Oct 25, 2014, 8:47 PM EDT
The intro video to Tom Izzo’s memorable entrance at “Michigan State Madness” Friday night.
Oct 25, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
While head coach Gib Arnold released a statement saying that the school had yet to receive a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, the administration is considering the option of self-imposing sanctions.
Oct 25, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Byron Samuels already had a tough rebuilding job in front of him as a result of Florida A&M being hit with a postseason ban for low APR numbers.
Oct 25, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Mike Young has seen the Wofford men’s basketball program come a long way since he first joined the coaching staff back in 1989.
Oct 25, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
A three-star commit on Friday night, a top-70 pledge on Saturday morning. This has been a big weekend for first-year head coach Mike Rhoades.
Oct 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
A story from Syracuse.com says the first-year big man does up to 500 pushups daily.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT
This is Danny Manning’s third commitment this month, first in the Class of 2016.
Oct 25, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Davidson is gone, but that does not mean that the SoCon will be a bad basketball league.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
Only three programs remain in contention for the nation’s top rated point guard.
Oct 25, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Pretty good dunk, but still not better than Chris Mack’s entrance.
Oct 25, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
The Hall of Fame coach makes his first comments, several days after Kenneth Wainstein released his report.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:55 PM EDT
Tom Izzo does it again. Add it to the long line of amazing midnight madness entrances.
Oct 24, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT
Chris Mack and his daughters performed ‘Paul Revere’ at Musketeer Madness on Friday night.
Oct 24, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT
The Wisconsin forward is likely to miss a week or two
Oct 24, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Ed Cooley adds a 6-foot-8 forward to the Friars’ front court.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
The former Virginia Tech Hokie will be a big boost to SMU’s perimeter.
Oct 24, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Manhattan and head coach Steve Masiello had some issues to address this spring, but thanks in part to their departed senior class the Jaspers are well-positioned to once again contend in the MAAC.
- 2014-15 Southern Conference Preview: Wofford, Chattanooga favored in Davidson’s absence 0
- Manhattan’s returnees look to build on the achievements of last season’s senior class 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: Rivals Iona, Manhattan have company in race to the top of the MAAC 1
- Top 25 Countdown: No. 11 Villanova Wildcats 1
- 2014-15 Season Preview: Kentucky’s loaded rotation leads nation’s best front courts 0
- Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did 0
- 2014-15 Season Preview: The Top 20 Perimeter Attacks 0
- UNC investigation states bogus classes pushed by academic counselors to athletes (7)
- Report: Texas plans to start paying their athletes $10,000 stipend (4)
- 2014-2015 Season Preview: College Basketball’s Top 13 Dunkers (VIDEOS) (3)
- Texas A&M lands another five-star center, has loaded 2015 recruiting class (2)
- Florida guard cleared to return to practice (2)