Wichita State sees Kentucky as yet another proving ground

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 22, 2014 Updated 18 hours ago

  • Matchup

    UK WSU

    Record 25-10 35-0

    PPG 75.3 75.1

    Opp. PPG 66.1 58.9

    FG pct. .449 .459

    Opp. FG pct. .402 .386

    3FG pct. .324 .347

    Opp. 3FG pct. .314 .305

    3FG/game 5.1 6.9

    Opp. 3FG/game 5.3 5.8

    FT pct. .682 .726

    Rebound margin 9.9 7.9

    Turnover margin 1.3 1.7

    Steals/game 4.7 6.9

    Blocks/game 6.3 5.2

    ABOUT Wichita STATE

    Location: Wichita, Kan.

    Enrollment: 14,550

    Nickname: Shockers

    School colors: Yellow and Black

    Head coach: Gregg Marshall (174-70 in seventh season at Wichita State; 367-153 in 16th season overall)

    Conference: Missouri Valley (Wichita State won the regular-season title and the conference tournament.)

    Series with UK: First meeting

ST. LOUIS — One last inconsequential shot in a game decided long before halftime. That's what Cal Poly seemed to be attempting in the final seconds of a 64-37 loss to Wichita State on Friday night.

Yet Kadeem Coleby bothered to rise and reject the shot.

When asked Saturday about this seemingly unnecessary block, Coleby spoke with a gesture rather than words. He pounded his right fist to his chest.

But wasn't the game over?

"No," he said quickly as if to correct and instruct a wayward child. "The game wasn't over. The clock was still ticking. I wanted one more."

When asked why his fourth block meant anything, Coleby frowned.

"That's what I do," he said. "I block shots. Yes, sir."

Wichita State must "follow principles," hence he had to block the shot, Coleby said.

That kind of sustained effort and palpable diligence confronts Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament third round Sunday. Much like Florida, another of the No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, Wichita State plays to a standard as well as against an opponent.

A 35-0 record (first team unbeaten at this stage of an NCAA Tournament in 23 years) speaks to how well Wichita State goes about its basketball business.

So although Cal Poly was hopelessly outmanned, Wichita State kept competing from tip-off to final buzzer. Poor Cal Poly didn't reach double-digit points until 2:45 remained in the first half. That's when a basket reduced Wichita State's lead to 30-10. With 13:44 left in the second half, the lead was 44-17 and Cal Poly had made five of 36 shots.

Yet shortly thereafter, star forward Cleanthony Early leaped not once, but twice to control an offensive rebound enough to tip it to a teammate in the corner.

Kentucky, which has sought all season to produce such effort and unity of purpose, knows the challenge it faces.

"We know we have to play for 40 complete minutes," Jarrod Polson said. "You can't take anything off against this team."

Throughout this season, Wichita State has felt disrespected even though the Shockers advanced to the Final Four last year. Skeptics wrote off the Shockers as merely a product of the relatively weak Missouri Valley Conference. No McDonald's All-Americans.

By contrast, Kentucky has seven McDonald's All-Americans and self-proclaimed status as the very personification of college basketball.

"We didn't even send a form letter to any of them," Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall said when asked about his recruiting interest in UK players. "I am not sure. I haven't checked all the way down with the walk-ons, but we didn't send any form letters."

Fittingly, it seemed, the T-shirts the Shockers received to commemorate winning the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament here last week misidentified the champion as Indiana State.

"Just funny," point guard Fred VanVleet said of the wardrobe malfunction. "It almost seemed right. Just the way our year went. No matter what we did right, it was never good enough.

"For (Indiana State) to be on there, it was perfect, really."

VanVleet, a sophomore from Rockford, Ill., signed with Wichita State rather than Drake or Kent State.

Coleby, who transferred to the Shockers from Louisiana Lafayette, acknowledged how playing Kentucky provides a great opportunity to showcase Wichita State's worthiness.

"Yes, sir," he said. "Show that we can play. We can hoop. Give us our respect. That's it!"

Sophomore guard Ron Baker, whose dry sense of humor recalls a young Donald Sutherland in M*A*S*H or Animal House, came to Wichita State as a walk-on. He had considered scholarship offers from South Dakota State and Arkansas-Little Rock.

Baker credited a farming accident in which he nearly suffocated trying to dump wheat into a grain elevator for a life-changing decision. "That's why I chose basketball rather than stay on the farm with grandpa," he said.

Now, he and the Shockers look for validation against Kentucky.

"You think of Kentucky, you think of basketball," Baker said. "... When you think of Wichita State, you think of Kansas. Wind. Dirt. Wheat.

"But in the past couple years, I'd like to think people would start thinking of basketball."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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