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Kentucky ends Wichita State's perfect run, 78-76

Kentucky Hands Wichita State First Loss

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- John Calipari stood frozen on the Kentucky sideline. Every player on the Wichita State bench held his breath. Everything seemed to stop inside the Scottrade Center as Fred VanVleet let loose with a 3-pointer that could have kept the Shockers perfect.

When it bounced harmlessly off the rim, everything was set in motion once again.

Calipari spontaneously leaped into the air, bad hip and all, as the eighth-seeded Wildcats poured off their bench to celebrate their 78-76 victory over the Midwest Region's top seed.

The boys from Wichita State slumped to their seats, their faces buried in their jerseys.

"I've been doing this so long. I've been in wars," Calipari said later. "You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four."

It certainly had that kind of drama.

Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to play bitter rival Louisville on Friday in Indianapolis, at long last looking like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.

Cleanthony Early scored 31 points and Ron Baker had 20 for the Shockers (35-1), who hadn't lost since last year's Final Four while taking an entire city - and state - on quite a ride.

"You're going to go through some humps in your life, kind of like this one. It's tough to see us go out like this," Baker said. "At the end of the day, someone's got to go home."

The showdown Sunday matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national titles, against a gritty bunch upstarts from Wichita State that was trying to become the first team to finish off a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.

The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky finally taking a 73-71 lead when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more foul shots for the Wildcats.

"Both teams were making plays," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said later, his voice sounding tired. "Back and forth, back and forth."

Early's two free throws with 9.8 seconds left got the Shockers within 77-76, and they got their chance to add another chapter to their miraculous story when Andrew Harrison made the second of two free throws and Early pulled down the rebound.

VanVleet raced up court and called timeout with 3.2 seconds left.

Marshall drew up a play that had Tekele Cotton inbounding the ball to VanVleet, and after a couple dribbles he took a shot from the top of the key. But it was wide the entire way, clanking off the rim and sending the Wildcats pouring onto the court to celebrate.

"We just felt so good beating a great team," said Andrew Harrison, who considered sitting the game out after hurting his elbow in a second-round win over Kansas State. "It shows how much work we've put in, how much we're getting better."

Kentucky was successful early using its superior size, not only in the paint but also on the perimeter, where the 6-foot-6 Harrison twins dwarfed the 5-11 VanVleet. But after the Wildcats took a 19-15 lead midway through the half, Wichita State ramped up its trademark defense, forcing a series of turnovers and getting right back in the game.

VanVleet was the catalyst. On one sequence late in the half, he stripped Aaron Harrison and hit Early in transition, and he was fouled slamming over 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein. Early made the free throw as the Shockers built a 37-31 lead at the half.

"I just feel like I'm always there when my team needs me," said Early, who was the breakout star of the Shockers' Final Four run a year ago. "We feed off each other in positive ways."

Early hit another 3-pointer right out of the locker room to match the Shockers' biggest lead at 40-31. But VanVleet picked up his third foul moments later, and Kentucky took advantage of the Shockers missing their floor general by gradually pulling ahead.

"I would have liked to have been a little more aggressive," VanVleet said. "We had to switch some matchups at the end because of my foul trouble. It's hard to play like that."

The game remained a back-and-forth prizefight the rest of the way, neither team leading by more than five, each answering the other with clutch 3-pointers and pressure-filled free throws.

It only made sense that the game would come down to the final possession.

"I feel for their team and I feel for their coach," Calipari said. "I'm happy we won. I'm happy for our guys. And I'm disappointed, because they had a heck of a run."

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cookie6175 March 24 2014 at 10:46 AM

It was difficult to see them lose. The Shockers are a great bunch of young men. They truly are a 'team' in every sense of the word. When one of them was asked about a game, they always, always, gave credit to 'the team', it was not about themselves. These young men just gelled and worked together and for each other. We here in Kansas are so very proud of them and Coach Marshall and his team....who else can say they had a 35-0 season?

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goldrushww March 24 2014 at 8:09 AM

It's a game..with someone wining and someone losing. That's it. We were fortunate to see a great game between two very hungry teams.

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1 reply
dkerr43154 goldrushww March 24 2014 at 9:36 AM

Everyone should WIN a competition award - ha ha just kidding.

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1 reply
Randy dkerr43154 March 24 2014 at 11:03 AM

They already do.... its called the nanny state and wimpification of youth sports.

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g999s March 24 2014 at 8:14 AM

Boo Hoo

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msuboticki March 24 2014 at 11:03 AM

Great college basketball game, played by 2- fine teams and Early was a "stud" . Did not like the time out by coach Marshall at the end, think they would have got a better look in transition . Not a big fan of coach Cal or Kentucky with their 1-and done. To me it is not about basketball but of using kids to come to their school for recognition not education and the school and the coach fill their pockets. Sends the wrong message in my opinion and another reason the players at the college level will never get supplemented while the coaches and school fill their pockets. Having said that, Kentucky played a great game and coach Cal. is a brilliant coach. Can't take that away from them.

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1 reply
jdsept msuboticki March 24 2014 at 1:15 PM

Using kids? Those going 1 year then on to big contracts to the NBA just might be using the Kentucky type schools. It would seem those leaving early filled their pockets quite well also. Coaches get paid a lot because they generate high monies for their schools. Now the schools take that money and use it for sports that generate no monies like almost all women's sports along with the lacrosse team, swimming team, track teams, wrestling teams etc. Without the big monies generated by hoops and football, those sports might not exist. Remember every scholarship for those male sports has to be matched by a scholarship for a female athlete most of whom generate little monies for their schools.

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frankl7 March 24 2014 at 9:58 AM

Sad for the shockers!!!!

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msggov March 24 2014 at 9:14 AM

There is no joy in Mudville today the mighty Casey/Wichita has struck out.

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boji413 March 24 2014 at 12:02 PM

The Shockers had a season they will remember for the rest of their days. They were the only team out of Kansas I was rooting for. I know they are deeply disappointed, but they have so many reasons to be proud. Nicely done WSU.

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peteskswisdom March 24 2014 at 9:57 AM

That was a fun game to watch. It is nice to go from the final four to the opening day at Keeneland in a short period of time.

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davirgi March 24 2014 at 11:11 AM

What an amazing game and these two teams were perfectly matched with Kentucky pulling off the upset..........way to go Big Blue...........UK all the WAY................!!

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Herb March 24 2014 at 9:43 AM

Great game----Go BIG BLUE!! Bring on the cardinals!!

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