Wichita State Shockers

Maui trip valuable for WSU

LAHAINA, Hawaii — Connecticut and Kemba Walker used the Maui Invitational to return to the national rankings. Chaminade added another big name to its list of victims.

Wichita State (3-1) must be satisfied with more modest success in its first trip to one of college basketball's most prominent holiday tournaments. The Shockers showed resiliency that should serve them well through March. While they didn't green-light an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Shockers did go 2-1 and benefit from three games in three days against good competition. They didn't allow Monday's frustrating loss to Connecticut — in which the Huskies shot 31 more free throws — to ruin their stay.

"Monday was a tough day," WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. "We bounced back."

That became the theme of the tournament for WSU. The Shockers didn't waste any time on self-pity, starting strong against Chaminade and rolling to a 79-58 win Tuesday. When Virginia built a 20-4 lead in Wednesday's fifth-place game, the Shockers maintained their composure and rallied to lead 35-31 at halftime. They wore the Cavaliers down in the second half to win 70-58.

"We never stop fighting," WSU senior J.T. Durley said.

The tournament started with most of the coaches in the field looking forward to seeing their team tested. Unranked Connecticut, with wins over WSU, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Kentucky in the title game, made the biggest impression. Walker zoomed to the top of everybody's Player of the Year list with a series of unstoppable moments — 31 points against WSU, 30 against Michigan State and 29 against Kentucky.

Chaminade defeated Oklahoma — upset might not be the right word — for its first tournament win since 2007.

WSU, which plays UMKC on Monday at Koch Arena, made progress, as well:

* Junior Joe Ragland started the final two games at point guard and totaled nine assists and one turnover. He played 28 minutes against Virginia, more than any other Shockers, and made 2 of 3 three-pointers and all four of his free throws.

"He really is starting to come into his own," Marshall said. "He's starting to assert himself."

* Junior David Kyles appears ready to join the roll call of steady producers. He played spectacularly in the first two games, scoring 18 points in the second half against Connecticut and igniting WSU to an early lead over Chaminade. He grabbed seven rebounds against Chaminade and volunteered to guard its best scorer.

For the tournament, Kyles averaged 14 points and made 8 of 17 three-pointers.

Those are the contributions coaches waited for from Kyles, a marvelously talented athlete with an inconsistent history.

* WSU's depth holds up against good teams. Marshall shortened his bench against UConn, with foul trouble a factor, and still played eight players 12 or more minutes. Nobody played more than 30 minutes in the final two games and WSU's bench outscored Virginia's 28-2.

With center Garrett Stutz in foul trouble, Durley moved into the starting lineup and gave WSU a post threat. When Kyles slumped to five points against Virginia, Toure Murry came off the bench to score 13.

* WSU's offense is capable of operating at a high level. The Shockers made 18 of 30 shots in the second half against Connecticut. They shot 51.6 percent against Chaminade. Against Virginia, WSU made 8 of 16 three-pointers and 18 of 22 free throws.

For the tournament, WSU made 29 of 67 three-pointers (43 percent) and 85 of 179 shots (47 percent). After committing 17 turnovers against Connecticut, the Shockers committed 13 and 10 in the next two games.

"We've got a lot of talent, a lot of size, a lot of athleticism," Stutz said. "We've just got to make sure we take good shots."

* There is work to do on the defensive end.

The Shockers couldn't stop Walker. Neither could anyone else in Maui. However, guards with quickness continue to drive the lane too easily against the Shockers, a trend that started in the exhibition game against Newman.

"We've got to figure out a way, without fouling, to give ground, give cushion, absorb those guards that are coming at you," Marshall said.

Chaminade made 10 of 22 three-pointers and Virginia shot 56.5 percent from the field in the first half. WSU played disruptive defense for short stretches, but not consistently.

"We trying to find our identity as a team — obviously our defense has to step up," Stutz said.

Monday's loss kept WSU from breaking into the national spotlight. The Shockers salvaged the rest of the tournament, and it won't be a surprise if they get another shot at national attention later this season.

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