If you don’t already know that Kentucky is, has been and will likely always be the SEC’s premier basketball program, just find a Wildcats fan and they will fill you in with more history than you can find at the Smithsonian.
The program played in the NCAA Tournament in 1942. This is their 53rd appearance. That is far and away more tournament appearances than any other basketball program. It is eight more than North Carolina, nine more than UCLA and 10 more than Kansas.
Safe to say the difference in Wichita State and Kentucky’s basketball bloodlines is apples and oranges. Wichita State has never been in the NCAA championship game. Kentucky is seeking its ninth NCAA Championship, the first since 2010.
This was a 35-0 Shocker team that Sunday faced an 8-seed Kentucky team with another all-star freshman-laden roster.
Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall admitted he not only did not send a current Kentucky player a recruiting letter, he did not know who any of them were until this season. They don’t cross the Cats’ path on the recruiting trail.
But the Shockers gave Kentucky all it wanted, as the Cats trailed 37-31 at intermission. Kentucky lost eight of the 12 games when they trailed at halftime. It was Kentucky’s second half rally that proved to be the difference. It could have gone either way down the stretch.
Wichita State held a 69-67 lead after Kentucky freshman Aaron Harrison knocked down two free throws. UK center Julius Randall hit a free throw on UK’s next possession to make it 69-68 at the 3:30 mark and it would stay tight to the end, where Kentucky held on to take a 78-76 decision.
The Cats took a 73-71 lead on a 3-point bomb by James Young and with the clock dropping under a minute to play, Andrew Harrison added two free throws to give the Cats a 75-71 lead. Kentucky held on to take a 78-76 win behind the Harrison twins combined 39-point output.
Andrew had 20 points, hitting seven of nine free throws while twin brother Aaron added 19 points on three of four free throws. James Young added 13 points, including a late 3-pointer. He also grabbed eight rebounds. Randle bagged a double-double with 13 point, 10 boards.
Kentucky beat Wichita State 16-5 on second chance points during the game and barely beat the Shockers in rebounding 34-30. Another key was Kentucky didn’t have a turnover in the final 8:25 of the game.
The Shockers would not go without a fight. Ron Baker hit a 3-point bank shot with 29.3 seconds to make it 75-74 Kentucky, but Randle hit two clutch free throws to give the Cats a 77-74 lead. State added two free throws with 9.8 seconds to make it a 77-76 UK lead and Andrew Harrison completed the scoring with the first of two free throws.
Wichita State’s Cleanthony Van Vleet missed a trey at the buzzer and Kentucky moves on to meet in-state rival Louisville in the Sweet 16.
“I told (Van)Vleet I wouldn’t want anyone else taking that shot but him," Marshall said.
This is the essence of March Madness. An undefeated Wichita State team was not afraid of Kentucky’s history. Now hoops fans are treated to a Louisville-Kentucky game. Louisville has some Final Four history of its own.
The games will get more difficult from here until we reach that one shining moment. It doesn’t get any better.
Contact Wilson Post Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at email@example.com