Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76
Wichita State 64, Cal Poly 37
Key statistics: WSU’s Cleanthony Early scored 54 points in the two games, making 21 of 32 shots and 7 of 14 three-pointers. The Shockers, after shooting 73 percent from the foul line in 34 games, made 24 of 39 in two NCAA games (61.5 percent). It didn’t matter against Cal Poly, but Sunday’s 12-of-18 performance hurt.
Record: WSU 35-1
- The frustration with this history-making season will be that the Shockers didn’t get more opportunities to play other great teams. The non-conference schedule was not a problem, as Saint Louis and Tennessee proved to be worthy NCAA Tournament teams, and BYU, Davidson, Tulsa, Western Kentucky and North Carolina Central were solid opponents who either made the NCAAs or finished first or second in their conference. After watching the level of play that the Shockers and Wildcats produced from each other, it’s a shame the Shockers didn’t get a least another chance or two to play elite teams.
- I’ve watched the final shot several times. Tekele Cotton, the in-bounder, made the only choice he had. A cross-court pass never reaches Early, who faded to opposite sideline. The Wildcats covered Ron Baker. VanVleet shooting over Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t ideal, but he was able to get a reasonably good look at the basket.
- Kentucky made 8 of 18 three-pointers (44.4 percent) and seemed to make one every time the Shockers went to a zone. The Wildcats shot 31.9 percent from three-point range in SEC play and 32.7 percent for the season. They made 23 of 54 (42.6 percent) in four games entering the NCAA Tournament, which fits coach John Calipari’s story of how his team improved in recent weeks. Had the Wildcats missed a few of those threes, WSU stays in the zone and the pressure builds on Kentucky to make shots. Instead, WSU’s zone was never much of a factor.
- In seven NCAA games, Early made 51 of 92 shots (55.4 percent) and 15 of 37 threes (40.5). Early’s arrival must be considered one of the key moments in coach Gregg Marshall’s tenure and his career one of the most significant in program history. Should his jersey be retired? He seems to check the boxes – All-American honors, All-MVC, 1,000-plus points, 2013 NCAA All-Tournament team, 2014 national player of the year candidate, NCAA Tournament success. He would be the first two-year player to join that list.
- WSU made 55.1 percent of its shots and 10 of 21 threes, so offense wasn’t an issue. However, almost all that offense came from Baker and Early. The Shockers did not get their usual scoring contributions from VanVleet, Cotton or Darius Carter. Kentucky’s length and ability to switch screens on defense kept several Shockers from doing what they did most of the season.