ST. LOUIS — Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall walked slowly through the line for postgame handshakes, congratulating every player from Kentucky on advancing to the Sweet 16.
When he shook hands with John Calipari, the Wildcats coach whispered, “Marvelous season.”
Marvelous, indeed. Just not quite perfect.
The top-seeded Shockers were finally beaten by a team stocked with NBA prospects, the end coming when Fred VanVleet’s 3-pointer bounced harmlessly off the rim and the buzzer sounded on a 78-76 loss to the Wildcats in the third round of the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament.
Cleanthony Early scored 31 points and Ron Baker had 20 for the Shockers (35-1), who hadn’t lost since last year’s Final Four while taking an entire city — and state — on quite a ride.
“It really has been a magic-carpet ride, and to have it end, it’s something that we’re going to have to get used to,” Marshall said with a drained voice, “but I still think in retrospect, we’ll still look back on it and be so proud.”
Andrew Harrison had 20 points, Aaron Harrison had 19 and Julius Randle contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the No. 8 seed Wildcats (26-10), who advanced to face Louisville on Friday in the regional semifinals, at long last playing like the preseason No. 1 team in the country.
“I’ve been doing this so long. I’ve been in wars,” Calipari said. “You all understand this was an Elite Eight game. The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four.”
The game matched the bluest of the blue-bloods, the most successful program in Division I history with eight national championships, against a gritty bunch upstarts from Wichita State that was trying to become the first team to finish off a perfect season since Indiana in 1976.
The game went back and forth the entire way, Kentucky finally taking a 73-71 lead when James Young knocked down a 3-pointer with less than 2 minutes to go. Early answered with a basket for Wichita State, and Andrew Harrison made two free throws for Kentucky. Baker banked in a 3 for the Shockers, and Randle made two more foul shots for the Wildcats.
“Both teams were making plays,” Marshall said. “Back and forth, back and forth.”
Early’s two free throws with 9.8 seconds left got the Shockers within 77-76, and they got their chance to add another chapter to their miraculous story when Andrew Harrison made the second of two free throws and Early pulled down the rebound.
VanVleet raced up court and called timeout with 3.2 seconds left.
Marshall drew up a play that had Tekele Cotton inbounding the ball to VanVleet, and after a couple dribbles he took a shot from the top of the key. But it was wide the entire way, clanking off the rim and sending the Wildcats pouring onto the court to 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.
Tennessee 83, Mercer 63
RALEIGH, N.C. — Jarnell Stokes had 17 points and a career-high-tying 18 rebounds, and Tennessee denied Mercer a second straight upset in the NCAA tournament.
Josh Richardson had a career-high 26 points and Antonio Barton added 18 for the 11th-seeded Vols (24-12), who outrebounded Mercer 41-19 and kept the Southeastern Conference perfect in the tournament.
They joined Florida and Kentucky in the round of 16 — the first time three SEC teams made it that far since 2007.
Tennessee will face second-seeded Michigan (27-8) in a Midwest Regional semifinal Friday night in Indianapolis.
Langston Hall had 15 points to lead the 14th-seeded Bears (27-9), who beat Duke in the signature upset of the tournament but couldn’t answer Tennessee’s size.
Iowa State 85, North Carolina 83
SAN ANTONIO — DeAndre Kane drove for the game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds left and No. 3 seed Iowa State advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.
The Cyclones (28-7) head to Madison Square Garden next week to face No. 7 seed Connecticut in the East Regional semifinals.
The Tar Heels (24-10) are gone in the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend for the first time in consecutive seasons under coach Roy Williams.
North Carolina’s Nate Britt raced the ball up court after Kane’s basket, but time expired before he could reach halfcourt and call a timeout. Officials huddled for several minutes reviewing clock replays before ruling the game was over.
Virginia 78, Memphis 60
RALEIGH, N.C. — Joe Harris scored 16 points and top-seeded Virginia shot 56 percent, earning its first trip to the NCAA tournament round of 16 in nearly two decades.
Anthony Gill added 13 points for the Cavaliers (30-6), who turned in a dominating performance while controlling the tempo and shutting down the eighth-seeded Tigers (24-10) at nearly every turn.
Virginia led by 15 at halftime and pushed that to 27 points late, picking right up where it left off in its strong finish to Friday’s tournament-opening win against Coastal Carolina.
Stanford 60, Kansas 57
Dwight Powell had 15 points and seven rebounds and No. 10 seed Stanford wrapped up its second straight upset at the free throw line.
Chasson Randle added 13 points, six steals and four assists for the Cardinal (23-12), who advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 2008 — also their last NCAA appearance. They beat No. 7 seed New Mexico on Friday.
Freshman Andrew Wiggins had just four points on 1-for-6 shooting with four turnovers in what could have been his final college game for Kansas (25-10).
Tarik Black had 18 points and six rebounds for the Jayhawks, but he fouled out with 5:25 to go. Conner Frankamp had 12 points on four 3-pointers, the last two in the final 23 seconds.
UCLA 77, Stephen F. Austin 60
SAN DIEGO — Jordan Adams scored 19 points and UCLA reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.
The fourth-seeded Bruins (28-8) will play Florida, the tournament’s overall top seed, in the South Regional semifinals on Thursday in Memphis. First-year coach Steve Alford has won as many NCAA tournament games in three days as the Bruins had in the previous five seasons combined.
Alford replaced Ben Howland, who was fired a year ago after the Bruins lost to Minnesota in their NCAA tournament opener. This is UCLA’s first trip to the regionals since Howland got the Bruins to their third straight Final Four in 2008.
Stephen F. Austin (32-3), the No. 12 seed, had its 29-game winning
streak snapped. The Lumberjacks hadn’t lost in exactly four months.
Baylor 85, Creighton 55
SAN ANTONIO — Isaiah Austin and Brady Heslip each scored 17 points and Baylor shut down Creighton’s Doug McDermott with suffocating defense, ending the career of the one of the most prolific scorers in college history.
Baylor’s size and speed overwhelmed the third-seeded Bluejays (27-8) and their national scoring leader, earning a third trip to the Sweet 16 since 2010.
McDermott, who averaged 27 points this season, finished with 15 but had just three in the first half as Baylor built a 20-point lead. McDermott ranks fifth on the NCAA career scoring list.
No. 6 seed Baylor (26-11) had five players score in double figures and shot 64 percent in one of the dominant performances of the NCAA tournament.
Arizona 84, Gonzaga 61
SAN DIEGO — Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 18 points each, and Arizona looked every bit the No. 1 seed in the West.
After four days of upsets and buzzer beaters, Arizona (32-4) closed out the NCAA tournament’s first weekend with a display of domination.
The Wildcats harassed the eighth-seeded Bulldogs (29-7) into 21 turnovers — 15 on steals — that led to 31 points.
Arizona led by 21 in the first half and continued to work over Gonzaga to earn its third trip to the Sweet 16 in four years.
By wire sources