Rushed Reactions: #8 Kentucky 78, #1 Wichita State 76

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 23rd, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways.

Cleanthony Early was outstanding for the Shockers. (AP)

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points in a losing effort. (AP)

  1. It was the best game of the year. Kentucky and Wichita State played an absolute classic. Not only was it the best NCAA Tournament game this season, it will likely stay that way. And it easily topped any regular season game simply because all that was on the line. The Wildcats and Shockers threw punch after punch, made run and after run, until Fred Van Vleet’s three clanked off the rim at the buzzer. It’s unfortunate that one of these teams had to lose. This game was fitting of a national championship game rather than a round of 32 game, and it may have been the best round of 32 game in the history of the Big Dance.
  2. Wichita State belongs among the nation’s elite. The Shockers were counted out all year long. It seemed like half the nation thought they weren’t good enough. Well, the detractors need to close their mouths. I don’t care that they were the first #1 seed to lose. They played a magnificent basketball game they certainly could have won, and it’s a real shame the Shockers will be going home early. A brilliant season that started with 35 straight wins ended in disappointment. But that shouldn’t take anything away from what the Shockers accomplished this year. Wichita State can play with anybody.
  3. Kentucky played like 40-0 Kentucky. Remember before the season began when there was all that conversation about preseason #1 Kentucky going 40-0? Well, the Wildcats finally played like the team they were expected to be on Sunday afternoon. They were focused, they competed unbelievably hard for 40 minutes, they defended, and they hit shots. The heralded freshman class lived up to its preseason billing. They were absolutely terrific in scoring 68 of Kentucky’s points. From Julius Randle to the Harrison twins to James Young, they were magnificent — if, and it’s big if, but if Kentucky can continue to play at this level, there’s no reason the Wildcats can’t cut down the nets in Arlington, Texas, as national champions two weeks from now.

Star of the Game: Cleanthony Early, Wichita State. Yes, even in a losing effort. The senior forward poured in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting. He went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Early pulled down seven rebounds, didn’t commit a turnover, and recorded a steal and a block. Early hit big shot after big shot in the second half, and threw down a monster posterizing dunk in the opening half. The only thing he did wrong was a missed layup with three minutes remaining in the tight contest that would have given Wichita State a three-point lead.

Quotable: “The joy that they’ve brought us all year long will live with me forever. Congratulations to Kentucky.” — Wichita State head coach, Gregg Marshall

Sights & Sounds: This was easily the best atmosphere of any game at the Scottrade Center this weekend. There wasn’t an empty seat to be found. The crowd was split about 50/50 and both sides were loud the whole time. Although it was just a round of 32 game —thanks to the nature of the match-up — it felt like a Final Four contest.

Wildcard: Andrew and Aaron Harrison attacked the rim at will. Andrew paced Kentucky with 20 points, while Aaron added 19. The twins’ size and quickness was just too much for Wichita State, and their strong performances didn’t stop at the offensive end. They did a tremendous job containing speedy Wichita State point guard Fred Van Vleet. The Shocker star finished with just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, including 0-of-4 from 3-point land. The Harrison twins spearheaded a tremendous effort from Kentucky’s freshman class. Randle and Young both added 13 points.

What’s Next? Kentucky advances to take on #4 Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen next weekend in Indianapolis. That should be an incredible game that could come close to topping this one. A huge rivalry in a Regional Semifinal. Yes, please. Kentucky beat Louisville 73-66 at home on December 28.

Adam Stillman (47 Posts)


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