College basketball’s Sweet 16 was set over four days this past week and a dozen games are on tap to determine the Final Four.
Several stood out such as No. 3 seeded Duke losing to No. 14 Mercer in the Midwest Regional, 78-71, No. 12 Harvard taking out No. 5 Cincinnati in the East Regional, 61-57, and No. 11 Dayton edging No. 6 Ohio State in the South Regional, 60-59.
Meanwhile, No. 2 Villanova was upended by one-time Big East rival No. 7 Connecticut in the East Regional, 77-65, No. 10 Stanford stunning No. 2 Kansas in the South Regional, 60-57, and No. 8 Kentucky getting past No. 1 Wichita State in the Midwest Regional, 78-76.
The Shockers came in with the most wins ever without a loss, and had a chance to stay undefeated if guard Fred VanVleet hit a three-pointer with one second left.
“It’s disappointing because it’s over,’’ said Wichita State Head Coach Gregg Marshall. “It’s over for our seniors. It’s been a joy coaching these guys. We lost to a really good basketball team. It takes nothing away from our season.”
Kentucky starts five talented freshmen, while Wichita State (35-1) relies on upperclassmen, and some felt this game begged which is the better philosophy in today’s hoop world?
The Wildcats (26-10) were the preseason No. 1, and though they lost some games, few would deny they’re an excellent team led by forward Julius Randle, who poured in 13 points with 10 rebounds and six assists, along with guards Andrew Harrison (20 points) and twin brother Aaron Harrison (19 points).
Forward Cleanthony Early’s game-best 31 points (21 in the second half) with seven caroms wasn’t quite enough for the Shockers, who led 7-6 with 15:34 left on a hoop by forward Chadrack Lufile (six points).
Wichita State pulled ahead 22-19 with 9:38 left on VanVleet’s neat pass to forward Darius Carter (five points), who put in a thunderous jam. VanVleet finished with four points, but handed out six assists and pulled down four rebounds.
Wichita State’s lead expanded to 30-23 with 5:15 showing on Early’s basket, and Early’s dunk with 46 seconds left gave the Shockers a 36-28 cushion, before a three-pointer from Kentucky guard James Young (13 points) and 14 seconds left ended the half with the Wildcats trailing, 37-31.
Guard Ron Baker (20 points with five boards) scored 12 points in the second half, and his trey with 31 seconds remaining got the Shockers within 75-74.
The Cardinal topped the Jayhawks because they exhibited a tough-minded defense. “We pride ourselves on defense,’’ said Stanford Head Coach Johnny Dawkins, a guard on Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four squad in 1986. “We’re a blue-collar team.”
Stanford forward Dwight Powell tallied 15 points with seven rebounds, and his follow-up shot with 12:40 left gave the Cardinal a 10-6 lead.
Stanford (23-12) was in front 21-19 with 2:32 left before the Jayhawks (25-10) outscored the Cardinal, 5-1, and took a 24-22 lead into the half.
When guard Chasson Randle (13 points, six steals and four rebounds) scored with 16:27 left Stanford was in front, 30-28, and Randle’s steal and hoop with 14:50 showing made it 36-30, before a 17-footer from center Stefan Nastic (10 points and four caroms) and 12:40 left gave the Cardinal a 40-33 advantage.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.