A battle between an experienced mid-major Wichita State team and the youthful, traditional power in Kentucky quickly became about the Wildcats growing up. No matter the ending, it is likely UK's 78-76 win in the round of 32 was its best all-around effort yet, and it took everything to down the unbeaten Wichita State Shockers.
Shockers guard Fred Van Vleet missed a three-pointer at the buzzer, and the No. 8 seed Wildcats advanced on Sunday to face rival Louisville in the Sweet 16.
Freshman Julius Randle helped Kentucky with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Andrew Harrison led John Calipari's team with 20 points, doing so despite coming into the game with a right elbow injury.
There were 14 lead changes in a back-and-forth battle. With eight seconds left, Harrison missed his second free throw with his team leading 78-76, giving the Shockers a chance to win at the buzzer, but the shot by Van Vleet was no good.
Forward Cleanthony Early led Wichita State with 31 points, including a dominating stretch in the heart of the second half that kept the Shockers in the game.
Wichita State, which exits with a 35-1 record, went into halftime with a 37-31 lead as both teams shot 54 percent thanks to crisp execution in their halfcourt sets. Like in the first half, the freshman-laden Wildcats started off the second looking confident despite their youth.
But the veterans on the other side would have their say, especially Early.
When Kentucky took a 50-46 lead with 13:32 to play, the Shockers' senior forward took over, scoring 14 of his team's next 20 points as Wichita State recaptured the lead. A layup by UK forward James Young gave the Wildcats a 70-69 lead with 2:51 to go, but Early again answered with a bucket. Young then drilled a three-pointer with less than two minutes to play, giving Kentucky a 73-71 lead that it wouldn't relinquish.