Maybe the most physical game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament came Sunday in Indianapolis.
Wichita State and the University off Kentucky faced of in a very hard fought Wildcat win; revenge for their 2014 ousting by UK will have to wait at least another year for Shocker Nation.
The first two minutes were a bit chaotic as both teams opened cold from the field. Finally, UK reserve guard Dominique Hawkins was able to put one through the hoop at the 17:30 mark.
Junior Connor Frankamp finally hit the Shockers’ first bucket about a minute later when he buried a three. WSU had missed their first seven shots until that point.
The Wildcats weren’t faring much better. Freshman guard De’Aaron Fox connected on a jumper from the top of the key to make 8-6 in favor of the Wildcats with 11:54 left in the half. Even having taken the lead, UK’s field goal percentage was hovering just above 30%.
After the under-12 TV timeout, the flow of the game picked up considerably. Kentucky quickly extended their lead to 14-8 on another basket from Hawkins, this one from the arc.
Not to be outdone, the Shockers immediately answered back. Freshman guard Austin Reaves knocked down a three from beyond NBA range to get it back to 14-11. Reaves can really shoot; he average nearly 35 ppg as a high school senior last year.
In the last five minutes of the half, Shockers center Shaquille Morris played like a man possessed. He knocked down three of his last four shots and had a vicious rejection on a Malik Monk shot attempt. Morris finished the half with eight points, five rebounds, and one block.
The game was extremely physical, just like Wichita State prefers. The Shockers were able to limit the Wildcats transition game and match them in the rebound department, leading to just a 26-24 halftime lead for UK.
The second half began much like the first. Short scoring spurts, bodies banging, altered shots, and persistent defense was on display by both teams.
A lob-dunk from Monk to Edrice Adebayo immediately prompted a timeout from WSU Coach Gregg Marshall as the Shockers now trailed 40-37.
For the next several minutes, both teams traded baskets for the most part. Out of a timeout, Coach Calipari started getting touches to his big man.
Abedayo scored six straight points and looked as if UK might start to pull away with a 54-48 lead and under six minutes to go.
Freshman Landry Shamet wasn’t having it. He drove the ball quickly down the floor, stopped, popped, and hit a huge three pointer for the Shockers, closing the gap to 54-51.
After a WSU miss, Frankamp went down hard with an apparent back injury. The loss would be difficult to overcome initially, as the Wildcats took quick advantage and opened up a 58-51 lead, their largest of the game. Frankamp was able to return a few minutes later.
Again, though, Shamet looked as if he was trying to will his team to victory. Fearlessly he drove right between UK’s big boys for a layup, then hit three from the charity stripe to cut the deficit or two, 58-56.
Fans roared as both teams traded three pointers. Then a Wildcat dunk sent Big Blue Nation into a frenzy, now ahead 63-59.
Shamet wanted more though. Showing nothing but the ice in his veins, he brought down the house with yet another three, cutting it to the slimmest of leads, 63-62.
With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Shockers had an two opportunities to take the lead or tie the game. The Wildcats were up to the challenge though.
They would block two shot attempts by the Shockers, the last by Shamet. With the clock ticking away, he raised up for a three that would’ve tied the game at 65.
But Abedayo rejected it, and the ball fell helplessly to the floor along with Wichita State’s season. This program is one of the best in the country and should expect to be competing for multiple Final Four appearances in the near future.