It’s hard to say what was the more meaningful statement from Kentucky beating Wichita State and moving on to the Sweet Sixteen. That John Calipari and his players aren’t as bad as the critics loved to say, or that the undefeated run from the Shockers has ended way earlier than anyone expected it to.
Kentucky, Calipari, the one-and-done philosophy and the players have been criticized all year long. Being overrated thanks to the preseason number one ranking which exploded in their face. The double digit losses to Florida. All seemed to point towards an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
But this group has it in them to be more than just five outstanding players with no real connection. Sometimes a team is formed through adversity, and that just might be the case for the Wildcats, coming through with a 78- 76 win, and making the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in Calipari’s tenure (5 years). James Young finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds, and it was his late-game shooting that put the Wildcats in the lead. Wichita State, twice, through Cleanthony Early (huge game) and Ron Baker got back in the lead late in the game, but eventually the Shockers were left with one final shot that Fred VanVleet, cold from beyond the arc all night, missed.
The Harrison twins led Kentucky for most of the game. Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19. The two guards didn’t pass to anyone – they simply shot and shot, while their teammates kept looking for them. Julius Randle had a big performance with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. He’s the last man standing out of the famous freshman trio entering this season, as both Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker have been knocked out of the competition with Kansas and Duke. Randle now has 22 double-doubles this season, the third most by a freshman in NCAA Division I history.
I’ve been doing this so long. I’ve been in wars. You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four. I feel for their team and I feel for their coach. I’m happy we won. I’m happy for our guys. And I’m disappointed, because they had a heck of a run.
There wasn’t a whole lot more that Cleanthony Early could have done. He finished with 31 points and 7 rebounds, hitting 12-of-17 shots. Why wasn’t he getting the ball on that final play is a question needed to be asked. Ron Baker scored 20 points until that point, but it seemed Wichita State were mostly disappointed in their defense, allowing as much as 78 points for the first time this season, but that is what happens when you play all year long in the MVC, and enter the tournament as a number one seed. People look for every opportunity to call you overrated.
Kentucky now move on to a Sweet Sixteen clash with Louisville, a team they beat earlier in the year, when things were very different for both teams.From what seemed like another disappointing season filled with big names and broken promises, it seems like Calipari and his bunch have pieced the puzzle they struggled to complete earlier on, making them as good as anyone left in the field of sixteen.