Delaying the season’s first tough test didn’t make it easy on Wichita State.
The Shocker ran through five straight opponents, all overmatched to a degree, before running into No. 10 Louisville in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Thursday. The Cardinals defeated the Shockers 62-52 by matching their intensity and coaching and exceeding their height and athletic ability.
And by throwing one important, and unexpected, strategic twist at the Shockers. Neither team had much time to prepare and the Cardinals had about 10 fewer hours than the Shockers. So in a 55-minute walk-through, Louisville coach Rick Pitino installed a matchup zone that the Cardinals used last season. The defense flummoxed the Shockers for much of the first half and did enough to give Louisville an edge it never relinquinshed.
“Considering Rick Pitino is a great coach, so he makes adjustments just how we make adjustments,” WSU forward Markis McDuffie said. “With their length and their size, he knew they could bother us. They disrupted our execution.”
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Thursday’s box score
WSU will play No. 24 Michigan State (3-3) in Friday’s third-place game at noon. Louisville (5-0) plays No. 20 Baylor (5-0) in the championship game.
The Shockers (5-1), had averaged 91 points in their first five games and won all by 27 or more. They had trailed for 51 seconds in those games, not at all in the second half.
The offensive joyride ended against Louisville’s shot-blockers, who swatted away eight shots and altered others. The Shockers either shot too fast or took guarded shots early and neglected to push the ball into the lane. When they did, nothing came easy against the thicket of defenders in the matchup zone.
“We didn’t attack it very well,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “We didn’t get the ball inside enough. When we did we were fairly effective. You’ve got to make the zone collapse.”
The Shockers missed 19 of 26 shots in the first half and five of their six foul shots. They committed eight turnovers. They led for 17 seconds and trailed the Cardinals for 38:10.
McDuffie and Shaq Morris both scored 10 points for WSU. The Shockers shot a season-low 31.6 percent and missed 16 of 22 three-pointers. They went 10 of 18 from the line.
Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider led Louisville with 14 points each. Mitchell also handed out five assists and recorded three steals. He scored 10 of his points in the second half.
Pitino didn’t want to play his usual man-to-man defense against the Shockers. His team is short on bodies. The Cardinals played late Wednesday night, limiting their preparation and introducing fatigue as an issue.
“We confused them with our zone,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t want to go too crazy with our pressure, just pressure them to the point where they didn’t know what to do.”
The Shockers spent most of the first half missing shots, sometimes even good shots, and looking for somebody to take charge with a basket or two. It didn’t help that guard Landry Shamet, one of the team’s best creators, played only seven first-half minutes because of fouls.
“We didn’t get the ball into the middle,” WSU forward Zach Brown said. “When the ball gets into the middle, the zone collapses and we get a lot more easy buckets.”
The Shockers trailed 9-6 when Shamet’s guarded layup rolled off the rim. In a blur, the Cardinals motored for a basket by Anas Mahmound. Shamet, surprised by a pass from Conner Frankamp while working through the press, walked. Deng Adel’s three-point gave Louisville a14-6 lead.
A miss by Shaq Morris turned into a layup for V.J. King and a 16-6 lead. Morris missed anotheat nonr shot in the lane. Lousiville’s David Levitch beat Zach Brown for a backdoor layup and an 18-6 lead.
Louisville made 4 of 12 threes in the first half with Adel going 3 for 3 behind the arc.
WSU cut the lead to 36-27 on a three-point play by McDuffie with 16:40 to play. The Cardinals batted back that rally with a 7-0 run helped by two Shockers turnovers.
Three-pointers gave WSU its next chance.
After a steal by Willis, Austin Reaves pulled up on a fast break to swish a three. Frankamp followed with one from the corner. Daishon Smith, open after an inbound play, cut the lead to 43-36 with a three. A basket by Morris got WSU within 46-40, but the run ended there.
“We couldn’t make the one more play to get it under seven, under six,” Marshall said. “We had one ball in the air to get it to three or four, but it didn’t go in.”
Louisville’s Quentin Snider made two jumpers for a 10-point lead. The Cardinals extended the lead to 55-45 on a corner three against WSU’s zone by Mitchell. He made another three from the wing to put Louisville ahead 58-46.
WSU vs. No. 24 Michigan State
- When: Noon Friday
- Where: Imperial Arena, Paradise Island, Bahamas
- Records: WSU 5-1, MSU 3-3
- Radio: 103.7-FM
- TV: ESPN2