Young, maybe. Scared, no way. The five freshmen starters for University of Kentucky did not fear the stage or the undefeated Wichita Shockers Sunday, with a dazzling display of poise and growth in earning a precious place in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’ve been doing this so long. I’ve been in wars,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said after University of Kentucky earned a heart-pounding 78-76 victory. “You all understand this was (like) an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four.”
Instead, Kentucky advances to face intrastate rival Louisville Friday in Indianapolis, and Wichita State goes home empty with a 35-1 record.
Twin brothers Andrew and Aaron Harrison were stellar for the Wildcats, scoring 20 and 19 points respectively, with big man Julius Randle adding 13, 10 rebounds and six assists.
The entertaining battle was one that will be long remembered for the effort and efficiency with which the teams played. There were many ebbs and flows over the 40 minutes of intense action, and it was not until a missed Fred VanVleet three-point shot at the buzzer that the huge Kentucky contingent could celebrate.
“We just felt so good beating a great team,” said Andrew Harrison, who considered sitting the game out after hurting his elbow in a second-round win over Kansas State. “It shows how much work we’ve put in, how much we’re getting better.”
In other upsets, No. 10-seeded Stanford, coached by former Duke star Johnny Dawkins, knocked off No. 2 Kansas, 70-67, to advance to the round of 16. No. 6 Baylor destroyed No. 3 Creighton 85-55. Also, Dayton bounced No. 3 Syracuse, 55-53 on Saturday and Connecticut sent home No. 3 Iowa State.