Shaquille Morris has never forgotten the feeling.
Now a 6-foot-8, 265-pound wide body, the Wichita State post player was a redshirting freshman when the Shockers’ dream of an unbeaten NCAA championship died at the hands of Kentucky in the 2014 round of 32.
“What I remember is how bad I felt when we lost,” Morris said.
John Robert Simon was a walk-on freshman guard on that 2013-14 Wichita State team, which carried a 35-0 record and a No. 1 seed into that fateful matchup with a Kentucky team whose roster of future NBA players had underachieved its way to a No. 8 seed.
But John Calipari’s Cats found themselves that Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, scoring a 78-76 upset in what was a genuine March Madness classic.
Afterward, the WSU locker room “was tough,” Simon says. “That was my first year, and I hadn’t been around what it was like to (lose). We had a great senior class, and that was really, really tough, to see them so upset.”
Now, three years after Kentucky foiled Wichita State’s dream season, the machinations of the NCAA Tournament selection committee have given the Shockers a shot at payback in the same round of the tourney.
On Sunday, Wichita State (31-4), horridly underseeded at No. 10 in the South Region, will meet No. 2 Kentucky (30-5) in what will be a round of 32 holy war for the Shockers.
WSU advanced to its meeting with UK by out-grinding Dayton 64-58 Friday night in the round of 64 in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I thought that was one of the hardest-played games we’ve been in (in) a long, long time,” Dayton Coach Archie Miller said.
Though this is Gregg Marshall’s most prolific scoring team at WSU (averaging 82.1 ppg entering the Big Dance), it survived and advanced through the longtime staples of Marshall’s ultra-successful run in Wichita.
That’s defense, rebounding and toughness — lots and lots of toughness.
Down 29-27 at the half, Wichita State held Dayton without a field goal from 13:59 to 6:25 of the second half. During that time, the Shockers opened a working margin that the Flyers were never able to surmount.
Using a 10-man rotation stacked with well-sculpted maulers, WSU hammered UD on the glass 48-29 and parlayed that into a decisive 19-8 edge in second-chance points.
The game’s defining sequence came inside the final two minutes. Down 55-51, Dayton got the ball right to the rim. In the ensuing sequence, Wichita State blocked four straight Flyers layup attempts.
“That showed we’re doing whatever it takes to win,” WSU forward Markis McDuffie said. “We’re tough.”
Back early in the season, when Kentucky was providing a thrill show in sneakers with breathtaking full-court basketball, people wondered whether the Cats would have what it takes to win an NCAA tourney slugfest against a tough-minded, physical foe.
On Sunday, we’re going to find out.
Wichita State will have “Remember the Alamo”-type motivation going back to the 2014 contest, too.
That memorable day in St. Louis, Wichita State played at a level worthy of its 35-0 record. Led by forward Cleanthony Early (31 points) and guard Ron Baker (20), the Shockers shot 55 percent (27-of-49).
Yet with freshmen Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins starring, UK matched Wichita blow for blow before finally getting a game-changing three from Young to take the lead for good.
WSU point guard Fred VanVleet had a three-pointer in the air at the buzzer that would have won the game.
It didn’t go. That quickly, Wichita’s perfect season was gone.
“We had a wonderful year, 35 wins going into that game. We were basically projected to go all the way,” Morris said. “It was tough for us.”
Winning Sunday does not bring back the 2014 Shockers’ shot at an undefeated national title, of course.
But it sure would make Wichita State and its fans feel good.
Says McDuffie: “Rematch, revenge — it’s time to play ball.”