LOS ANGELES — Dare I say, Wichita State brought Showtime back to LA?
The Shockers are on a national stage and they’re killing it like Johnny Depp. This is a true Hollywood story unfolding before our very eyes. Wichita State is riding to the Elite Eight and they’re doing so on a rocket ship straight from the Star Trek soundstage. This town hasn’t seen a hit maker like this since Smokey Robinson.
Just don’t call what the Shockers are doing a miracle, OK? Because it’s not. The 72-58 beat down WSU gave La Salle on Thursday night at the Staples Center, one that ended in front of a few hundred Shocker fans and not many others, was no fluke.
And a team that lost twice to Evansville this season is now making a case as a potential national champion. Can it be? Can it really be?
Ohio State is next up for Wichita State. The Buckeyes are a rugged team, battle-tested from the rigors of the Big Ten. And you know what? It wouldn’t surprise anyone if WSU stepped right over OSU to get to Atlanta and the Final Four. That’s how good the Shockers are.
It’s not necessarily how good they’ve been all season. Or even a three weeks ago. But it’s how good they are now and now is all that matters.
I can only imagine how the national college basketball pundits are reacting to all of this. Wichita State has been such a nice story ever since knocking off Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, last week in Salt Lake City.
Wichita State, though, was never satisfied to be anyone’s nice story. The Shockers play angry, not nice. They thrive on dirty work.
La Salle never saw this coming. Realizing its decided size advantage, WSU threw passes over the top of an out-manned defense and senior power forward Carl Hall scored 10 of WSU’s first 14 points to help build an early 12-point lead.
The Explorers were lost at sea.
La Salle flirted with a couple of comebacks, but lacked the strength to push this rock up the mountain. Wichita State was too strong, too tough, too talented and too determined.
The return of Ron Baker seems to have lit a fuse with this team, because the explosions are coming fast and furious. Baker played a team-high 34 minutes and did everything — every single thing — a basketball player can do to make himself valuable.
Sophomore Tekele Cotton did what he always does – take the legs out from under the opposing team’s best scorer. Thursday night it was La Salle guard Ramon Galloway, who suffered through 4 of 15 shooting as Cotton rode him hard and put him away wet.
Senior guard Malcolm Armstead, who hadn’t done a lot offensively in the tournament through 2 ½ games, went crazy in the second half with his patented dipsy-dos along with a couple of three-pointers.
“When we threatened in the second half, Armstead’s the one who really responded,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They’re very impressive, as good as anyone we’ve played against all year.”
Philly tough? How many times did we hear that leading up to this game? Sure, La Salle might not be big, people said, but the Explorers are tough.
Well, I’ve got a new phrase for you. How about Wichita tough? Yeah, let’s throw that one out there because there was no question about which team was tougher.
La Salle fought. La Salle didn’t lie down. La Salle cut a couple of huge Shocker leads to reasonable deficits in both halves.
But the Shockers were just that much better from the start of the game until the finish. They out-rebounded La Salle 47-29. They out-shot La Salle. They out-every-thinged the Explorers and are headed to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1981.
The Shockers are one win from a Final Four and they haven’t been to one of those since 1965, when I was a kid. I haven’t been a kid for a very long time.
I’m not sure anyone can explain how this is happening. It’s surreal, yet not out of place. The Shockers belong on the same floor as any team they play against, but that doesn’t make any less unbelievable.
“When you’re involved in it, just like the season, it’s hard to reflect back because you’re right in the middle of it,’’ Marshall said. “Right now, I’m just grinding like the guys say. I’m trying not to be satisfied. We’re trying to continue to give these guys the best chance that we can do as leaders to win. They’re playing pretty well.’’
This is a team that lost to Evansville this season. Twice. And to Southern Illnois. It’s a team that with a chance to wrap up a Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship lost two games as Creighton grabbed it away.
That was then. This is now. The Shockers have gone from really good to nationally prominent in just a couple of weeks. It doesn’t seem real, but it’s as real as anything.
This nine-seed has burst through the ground like a beanstalk. It keeps growing and growing and it’s taking over the NCAA Tournament. Ohio State might be the team that ends this dream Saturday, but the Shockers are in a beautiful state of unconsciousness. Showtime might last a while.