Wichita State this year was carrying in to March Madness the first undefeated record in 23 years. With 35 straight wins in a row and a Final Four appearance last year, nobody quite gave the eighth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats much of a chance. Kentucky going in to the tournament this year was struggling mightily this season, once being atop of the polls and ultimately lost 10 games on the year. However, can anyone really count out a team that has the most all-time wins paired with the all-time highest winning percentage in college basketball history? The answer, to simply put it was… No. The Kentucky Wildcats with 10 losses on the season came in to the second round of the tournament and shocked the Wichita State Shockers, ultimately handing them the one and only loss of the season that truly counts the most.
This game had all of the drama a fan could want. The Wildcats, down by six at the half, clawed their way back into a game that saw seven lead changes in the second half alone, all the while being led by a player whose game-time status was in doubt. Andrew Harrison led the Wildcats not only in scoring totals (20 points), but also sank three free-throws in the final minute of the game to help Kentucky seal the deal. His twin brother, Aaron, added 19 points while fellow freshmen James Young and Julius Randle scored 13.
The Kentucky Wildcats all year long have been a team so close to winning the big games, but could never fully get over the hump. Kentucky, led by a group of talented freshmen (a staple of John Calipari basketball), finally crossed that threshold and proved that they have what it takes to compete with the best. Shocking the Wichita State Shockers was not the only hurdle the Kentucky Wildcats cleared today. On the season, Kentucky had lost eight of their past 12 games when trailing at halftime. This game, luckily, they were only down by six as Kentucky’s James Young drilled a three-pointer with 10 seconds left in the first half. The final hump the Wildcats crossed over today was beating a ranked team. On the season, Kentucky lost all but one of their seven games against ranked opponents and all of the losses came in close, frustrating fashion.
Still, what can be better than upsetting a number one-seed in the tournament? Try upsetting your arch-rival Louisville Cardinals twice in one year and in the Sweet 16 no less. The Kentucky Wildcats are clicking on all cylinders right now having won four of their past five games, its only loss coming to overall number one-seeded Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game 61-60. The Wildcats in their only match against the Cardinals won a hard fought match where the Harrison twins combined for 28 points, 11 of which came in a critical time when star forward Julius Randle was being treated for cramps. The over-sized Wildcats match up well against the talented offense of Louisville and should make for another great game.
As the Kentucky Wildcats revel in the glory and shock of upsetting the Wichita State Shockers, the overall goal and pre-season accolades have yet to be accomplished or validated. Next week they take on the Louisville Cardinals and if they happen to get past them, they would go on to play the winner of Michigan/Tennessee. The road from here is not easy, but Calipari has been here before and he has always coached up his freshman stars to just have fun, but most importantly… to win.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles