The 2014 NCAA Tournament game between Wichita State and Kentucky makes any short list of great games.
It might lead the list for games contested during the first weekend. Kentucky’s 78-76 win in St. Louis featured eight future NBA players, a high-level exchange of big shots and seeding controversy.
The revenge factor is irresistible as an emotional peg for Sunday’s rematch in the second round of the South Regional, even if the main combatants are elsewhere.
Junior Shaq Morris, one of three Shockers on the current roster who was on the bench for that game, said Saturday he heard from former teammates Fred VanVleet and Cleanthony Early after a WSU-UK rematch became a reality.
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“Their message was just telling us to be ready and go hard and give it our all,” Morris said.
The revenge factor is stronger for fans than it is the participants.
“We personally wasn’t there, but we knew how much… the fan base loved it,” junior Rashard Kelly said.
None of the 17 players who played in the 2014 game are on the current rosters. Kentucky seniors Dominique Hawkins and Derek Willis are still Wildcats.
“We just played really good together,” Willis said. “Just a dogfight. We came out on top.”
For Wichita State, it’s Morris, a redshirt in 2013-14, and seniors Zach Bush and J.R. Simon.
“The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, other than you media people, are Coach Cal and I,” Marshall said.
As WSU’s unbeaten run progressed, the Shockers became a target for skeptics who doubted their schedule strength. In some quarters, fans and media members considered them unworthy of a No. 1 seed. In Marshall’s mind, it took a loss to a great team to validate the Shockers to some.
For most of the Shockers, it’s a memory earned by others.
“Obviously, it was a very historic game against two very good teams,” junior guard Conner Frankamp said. “Both teams are different now.”
As time passes, the game’s status as a landmark for the program will grow.
“We watched a little bit of that game with our team today just to show them how we countered Kentucky’s size and athleticism,” Marshall said. “You saw Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet and the Kentucky players. … That court was full of NBA guys. It was a tremendous game. I didn’t even realize it until after the game what a great game it was because I hate giving up that many points.”
WSU’s key players in that game would undoubtedly relish a taste of revenge Sunday against the Wildcats. But sophomore Markis McDuffie sees it more as a program-wide rallying cry.
“They’re happy for us and they’re proud of us,” McDuffie said. “They just want us to continue to stay focused and take advantage of our opportunity.”
The NBA futures from the 2014 NCAA Tournament game.
Ron Baker, New York
Fred VanVleet, Toronto Raptors
Cleanthony Early, New York (currently in NBA Development League)
Aaron Harrison, Charlotte (currently in NBA Development League)
Andrew Harrison, Memphis
Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento
James Young, Boston