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Wichita State’s NCAA run full of memorable scenes

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, April 7, 2013, at 7:50 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, August 25, 2013, at 9:02 a.m.

— The No. 9 seed starts the NCAA Tournament with an empty dry-erase board, available for the story to be written. It isn’t an underdog from a one-bid conference like the double-digits seeds. It isn’t a title contender from the elite, like the top seeds.

Nobody expects the No. 9 seed to stick around long enough to matter. None of them knew about Wichita State.

The nine line is often regarded as the worst spot in the bracket (unless it’s No. 8) because it starts the tournament with an even matchup and must face the No. 1 seed two days later.

That is Wichita State’s story this March and April. The ninth-seeded Shockers added to the lore of that bland-as-oatmeal seed with their appearance in the Final Four. Only five No. 9 seeds made the Sweet 16 since seeding started in 1979. Only two made the Final Four.

After finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference, WSU defeated Pittsburgh, top-seeded and top-ranked Gonzaga, 13th-seeded La Salle and second-seeded Ohio State to win the West Regional.

“People will respect Wichita State for a long time,” WSU guard Fred VanVleet said. “It was a great ride.”

The ride ended on Saturday with a 72-68 loss to Louisville, the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed in the national semifinals in the Georgia Dome in front of 75,350 fans, second-largest in Final Four history. The Shockers led by 12 in the second half before Louisville closed the game with a 37-21 run in the final 13 minutes.

“You’ve got to give credit to Louisville,” WSU guard Tekele Cotton said. “We just needed two more plays.”

The Shockers (30-9) made most of the big plays during March, on their way to a school-record for wins and their second Final Four appearance.

WSU 73, Pittsburgh 55

Site: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City

Memorable moment: Cotton stole a lazy pass ball from Pitt’s Trey Zeigler near half-court and dunked for a 45-35 lead.

Quotable: “They were far more aggressive than us,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “I can’t explain it.”

Trend established: Cotton as a defensive star with a lockdown effort on Tray Woodall, who scored two points on 1-of-12 shooting.

Moving on: Gonzaga narrowly avoided an upset by 16th-seeded Southern, winning 64-58.

WSU 76, Gonzaga 70

Site: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City

Memorable moment: Shocker coaches and players danced with the pep band and fans after the win, lifting the “Shocker War Chant” into the tournament spotlight.

Quotable: “I can’t even hardly talk right now,” WSU senior Carl Hall said. “I can’t describe this feeling. It’s crazy.”

Trend established: WSU freshmen as ready for the big stage after VanVleet and Ron Baker made three-pointers in the final minutes.

Moving on: La Salle, which earlier defeated Kansas State, beat Mississippi 76-74 on a last-second “Southwest Philly Floater” by Tyrone Garland in Kansas City.

WSU 72, La Salle 58

Site: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Memorable moment: Hall scored the game’s first basket on a layup after a lob pass from Cotton on their way to a 17-3 lead and paint domination.

Quotable: “Forty minutes away,” WSU guard Malcolm Armstead said. “It’s a dream come true.”

Trend established: Armstead as the team’s key player with a nine-point burst that ended La Salle’s hopes in the second half.

Moving on: Ohio State needed a buzzer-beating three by LaQuinton Ross to beat Arizona 73-70.

WSU 70, Ohio State 66

Site: Staples Center, Los Angeles

Memorable moment: Coaches and players cut down the nets to celebrate WSU’s first trip to the Final Four since 1965.

Quotable: “Happiness throughout my whole body,” Baker said. “It’s my (20th) birthday and we’re going to the Final Four.”

Trend established: WSU as vulnerable to fatigue late after it led 60-45 with 7:03 remaining. Ohio State pressed and forced turnovers, cutting the lead to three points with 2:48 to play.

Moving on: Louisville routed Duke 85-63 to win the Midwest Regional.

Louisville 72, WSU 68

Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Memorable moment: Louisville’s Luke Hancock forced a jump ball by tying up Baker after he rebounded Hancock’s missed foul shot. The quick whistle and possession arrow gave the ball to the Cardinals with six seconds to play and a 71-68 lead.

Quotable: “I think (WSU) gained fans, support and love across the world,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They certainly proved that not only do they belong, but they can play with the best.”

Trend established: Cleanthony Early finished his junior season with 24 points and 10 rebounds, launching him into a senior season with high expectations.

Vincennes star commits to WSU — Sophomore forward Darius Carter gave WSU an oral commitment, according to the Vincennes (Ind.) University athletics website.

Carter, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound sophomore from Akron, Ohio, averaged 15.8 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Trailblazers. He averaged 19.5 points in four games in the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson to earn a spot on the all-tournament team. Vincennes (33-4) finished fourth.

Carter attended Firestone High in Akron, where he averaged around 23 points and 14 rebounds as a senior, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or psuellentrop@wichitaeagle.com. Check his blog at blogs.kansas.com/shockwaves, and follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.

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