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UK advanced to a third Sweet 16 in as many seasons with a 64-59 win over Syracuse on Monday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) UK advanced to a third Sweet 16 in as many seasons with a 64-59 win over Syracuse on Monday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell had a hard time containing himself at various points on Monday night.

Coping with the 2-3 zone defense Syracuse mixed with full-court pressure and myriad traps, his Kentucky Wildcats did things that made him scratch his head. Frankly, it was a wonder he didn't do more than that.

"There were times where I wanted to run out to half-court and scream and go nuts or sometimes I wanted to leave the building a couple times with some of the decisions that we were making," Mitchell said. "But what we had to do tonight was keep our wits about us."

Two days after the Cats piled up the points, the Orange made them work for the Sweet 16 berth they so badly wanted. Even though the scoreboard had a much easier time of it than in a record-setting 106-60 win over Wright State on Saturday, UK moved on with a 64-59 victory in spite of shooting just 36.2 percent from the field.

"It still was just very, very difficult to make it happen," Mitchell said. "And I'm so proud of the players on a night where clearly the ball didn't go in the basket for us and we didn't always make the best decisions, being able to create and force 23 turnovers and getting them at crucial times down the stretch and answering every run that Syracuse made today."

The Orange made plenty of them.

When UK (25-8) built a nine-point lead with less than 13 minutes left, Syracuse (23-9) charged back with seven straight to make it 46-44. When the Cats built the cushion back to 10, the Orange wouldn't go away either.

It wasn't until Bria Goss buried five of six free throws over the final 3:52 to salt away the win and clinch a third Sweet 16 berth in as many seasons. For the game, Goss scored led all players with 17 points, 11 of which came at the line.

"I'm really confident going to the line and it's almost like an automatic two and I think that my team knows that and they know my abilities," Goss said. "That always helps."

Goss was valuable as much more than just a free-throw shooter on Monday, making hustle plays on both ends in grabbing six rebounds and snagging two steals.

"On a night where it was difficult to score because the opponent played really, really well and worked real hard to keep them from scoring and confused in so many ways, to have a player that would fight for loose balls, would hang onto the ball when she got fouled, attack the basket when we were struggling to score and no fear going up through three people and getting to the rim and getting to the foul line, it was huge," Mitchell said.

While Goss was drilling shots at the line to salt away the victory, Janee Thompson was coming up with clutch defensive plays.

The sophomore point guard, in many ways, perfectly represented her team on this night. Thompson couldn't make a shot, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting, and was responsible for many of the decisions that left Mitchell wanting to exit the premises in committing five turnovers, but she hung in with the help of an individual talk from her coach at the five-minute mark.

"He basically pulled me aside and just told me to stay ready and he wanted me to come in and play tough defense and try to get some stops down the stretch," Thompson said. "That's just basically what I was trying to do when I got back in the game."

She did just that, coming up with a key steal from Brianna Butler, who led Syracuse with 15 points in the absence of leading scorer Brittney Sykes. The play came when the outcome was still in doubt with 44 seconds left, short-circuiting a possession when the Orange trailed 63-57.

Eleven seconds and two missed free throws by Jennifer O'Neill later, Thompson did it again. This time, it was a blocked shot on a 3-point attempt than killed crucial seconds.

"That's what you like to see, a player bounce back from a real disappointing 35 minutes or up to that point in the game and she got it together and contributed to the victory," Mitchell said.

It's a victory that propels UK into a Sweet 16 rematch with Baylor at noon ET on Saturday in South Bend, Ind. Regardless how it looked, Mitchell is just glad the Cats got it.

"We were not very explosive offensively and we were able to get it done on the defense," Mitchell said. "So I love them and I just want to keep coaching them and I'm real, real excited about the upcoming week."

The Kentucky Wildcats celebrate their 64-59 win over Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) The Kentucky Wildcats celebrate their 64-59 win over Syracuse in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
At the biggest moments in Monday's win, the impact of the crowd at Memorial Coliseum can't be understated. With every big shot from the Kentucky women's basketball team, the Big Blue Nation answered with a big cheer of their own.

Kentucky had to give everything it had in the 64-59 win, and the fans were there every step of the way.

The Big Blue Nation made up nearly all of the nearly 5,000 fans witnessing UK make the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. Combined with a small, but vocal, contingent of Orange fans, band and cheer squad, it made for an entertaining atmosphere. There was a lot on the line on the court, and the fans answered.

"The crowd really responded two days in a row," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said. "We had an unbelievable environment so thank you to the fans."

It was the type of game that left you sitting on the edge of your seat. For the fans at Memorial Coliseum, most of them didn't bother using their seat at all in the last several minutes.

With each made basket, steal or defensive stop, the energy was there both on and off the court. It had an impact, on both sides.

"It's a great team, a bunch of athletes in a great environment for women's basketball," Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said of Kentucky and the Memorial Coliseum crowd. "It's unique for women's basketball, to come to a place like this and they bring a great crowd, a very respectful crowd, too. It's just a very good venue for women's basketball."

When Syracuse got within five in the second half, the Wildcats -- and the Big Blue Nation -- answered. When Syracuse cut UK's lead to two at 46-44, the Wildcats, and their fans, had an answer.

There was no giving up, and the Wildcats made it known, the fans had an impact.

"It helped being in our house where the fans were really helpful," Kastine Evans said of making shots down the stretch. "They made a lot of noise when we needed it. Especially when we made big plays.

The party continued well after the final buzzer. The team stuck around for several renditions of the fight song. Coach Mitchell pumped his fists to both sides of the blue-filled Coliseum stands. The players waved and showed their appreciation.

It was a fun night at Memorial Coliseum. Combined with Saturday's opening-round win, it was a fun weekend at the old arena. Whether it was at 11 a.m. Saturday or Monday evening, the noise was there.

Now, the Cats, and the ever-loyal Big Blue Nation, take the party to South Bend, Ind. The Wildcats will play either Cal or Baylor. No matter the color of the Bears, be it blue and gold or green and gold, it will be another tough test for UK.

Kentucky won't have the benefit of the home crowd, but knowing the Big Blue Nation, there will be a sizable number of fans cheering on the Wildcats on the road.

SEC backing up talk of disrespect

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Championship-game opponents UK and Florida are two of three SEC teams to reach the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics) League championship-game opponents UK and Florida are two of three SEC teams to reach the Sweet 16. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
John Calipari has been tooting the Southeastern Conference horn all season.

"It amazes me when people beat each other in other leagues it shows how strong their league is," Coach Cal said back in February. "When we beat each other in our league, then the league is not very good. What?"

Reasonably, with the way the league performed against some lesser opponents out of conference, those words sounded hollow then. Now, in late March, with the SEC rolling through the NCAA Tournament, they're carrying a lot more weight.

The league only got three teams into the field of 68, but all three are still dancing in the Sweet 16. Combined, UK, Florida and Tennessee are 7-0, with the Volunteers forced to win three games because of a first-round draw.

Not only is the league the only unbeaten conference in the tournament, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the SEC is the first conference to go 7-0 or better in the NCAA Tournament entering the Sweet 16 since the Big East went 8-0 in 2003.

The Big 10 and Pac-12 also have three teams in the Sweet 16, but they also had more teams in the field to begin with. The Big East is gone. The Atlantic Coast Conference has just one.

Maybe there's some truth to the belief that UK and Tennessee were under-seeded after all.

"Someone's got to find out when you have a strength of schedule of two and that's all they keep talking about, what did you use to make that team an eight?" Calipari said last week. "What did you use? And they can use anything. 'Well, it was a cloudy day that day and we decided they were an eight.' And that's what it is and you go and as coach that's fine. Put me where you want, let's go. But as a league, we got to figure (it) out."

UK finished the season with an RPI of 17 and the second-toughest schedule in the country and got a No. 8 seed (the Cats have played seven games against five of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16). Tennessee's RPI wasn't nearly as good as UK, but the Volunteers won five in a row before narrowly losing to top-ranked Florida just before the NCAA Tournament, and three of those victories were by 27 points or more. Tennessee was regarded as one of the best teams in the country in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and that was before Selection Sunday and the Sweet 16 run.

LSU and Arkansas are also still alive in the NIT and both were on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Missouri and Georgia also won their opening-round games in the NIT.

"Tennessee played as well as any team in the country down the stretch," Coach Cal said last week. "Are you taking how teams are playing at the end or how we were playing at the end? 'Not in your case.' Well, what did you take in our case? And you really got to go down and find out what it was. 'Well, you didn't beat enough people.' Did everybody else? I mean, so compared to who? And so that's the kind of stuff that our league - not me, not the ADs -- our league needs to find out who in that room, what were we basing this on because you can't keep moving the goalposts. 'It's strength of schedule.' Really? Then move the goalposts. 'It's how you finish.' Really? 'No, it's you didn't beat enough people.' Really? I mean, which one (is it)? And moving the goalposts makes it easy. But you know what? At the end of the day in this thing, you just got to go play now."

The SEC has done just that and backed up the league's beliefs.

Nobody could hear -- or perhaps wanted to hear -- those "S-E-C, S-E-C" chants before, but they ringing as loud as ever.

Notes: Mutual respect defines UK-Wichita State

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UK bested Wichita State in a memorable round-of-32 matchup on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK bested Wichita State in a memorable round-of-32 matchup on Sunday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Story by Eric Lindsey and Guy Ramsey

ST. LOUIS -- Players for both Kentucky and Wichita State said all the right things in the lead-up to the most anticipated matchup of the NCAA Tournament so far.

The Wildcats praised the Shockers, saying their undefeated record was no mirage. The Shockers praised the Wildcats, saying their size, athleticism and talent were as advertised.

After the two teams went back and forth for 40 of the most intense minutes you're ever likely to see on a college basketball court, UK and Wichita State showed the pregame compliments weren't idle talk.

Once the Cats finished a brief celebration of their heart-stopping 78-76 win, the teams assembled for a handshake line that proved to be much more than just perfunctory.

"I told them I watched tape of you guys and it's amazing and I am happy for our guys," John Calipari said. "And I am just disappointed because they had a heck of a run going."

A matchup as hard-fought as Sunday's often leads to bad blood, but not this time.

"Coach Cal just told me we had a marvelous season," Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. "And I congratulated each and every one of them and told them, you know, 'Congratulations and great game.' "

The only thing between UK and Wichita State was mutual respect.

"They played a great game," Marshall said. "They put on a wonderful show. And I just thought it was a great basketball game. And they deserved it tonight. They played -- they were one play better."

Even Ron Baker and Andrew Harrison -- two players who often guarded one another and scored 20 points apiece -- only had good things to say.

"At the end I shook hands with Andrew Harrison and he said, 'You're a bad, bad, bad boy,' " Baker said. "And I told him the same. He's a great player and I wish him the best."

Aaron Harrison had his turn guarding Baker too and had a similar reaction.

"It is a great team and they had a lot of great players on that team. And I was matched up with him and it was a joy just playing, playing the game," Aaron Harrison said. "And we had to play hard and battling is really fun and just going to work, really fun. And going against a great player like that was a good matchup and a great challenge."

Both teams thrived on the challenge and the 19,676 fans in the Scottrade Center got to watch the result.

"They have a few great players on that team, so we knew we were going to have to play every possession," Andrew Harrison said. "And it was just a joy."

Coach Cal can't put classic into perspective

Hyperbole was flying around during and after Kentucky's win over Wichita State.

Twitter was abuzz with attempts to put the game into perspective, while television analyst and hall of famer Charles Barkley immediately ranked it among the best he's ever seen.

Asked whether it's the best game he's ever coached in, Calipari let a little air out of the big-game balloon.

"I have been doing this so long, I don't want to say that," Calipari said. "I've been in wars."

That's not to say, however, that UK-Wichita State wasn't special.

"I would say this was an Elite Eight game that the winner should have gone to the Final Four," Calipari said. "That's how good they are and how good we're playing right now."

In Calipari's eyes, the Shockers didn't deserve to lose in the third round. But even so, the defeat that came too soon doesn't erase what Wichita State accomplished in coping with all that comes with carrying an unbeaten record into late March.

"I feel for their team and I feel for their coach," Calipari said. "And Gregg, understand what he did to keep these guys on point was nothing short of miraculous. I have done it where I had to coach teams that were 26-0, 20-0. I'm telling you, each game there is more and more pressure to win."

That pressure was only intensified by playing in the Missouri Valley Conference.

"I was also in a league where we could not afford to lose any league games," Calipari said. "If we did we became a seven seed. We would go from a one seed to a seven seed. You couldn't lose any games. I have been where he is. I know how hard they worked."

The buildup for U of L has already begun

The dust had barely settled from what will likely be one of the greatest games Julius Randle will ever play in, but given the next opponent and what lies ahead this week, the question about Louisville was inevitable.

"Julius," the reporter started, "your reward for winning a game like this is you get to play Louisville. Do you have any idea what this week will be like building up to that?"

"I have no idea," Randle said.

He really has no clue.

When Kentucky-Louisville played in the Final Four in 2012 for the right to go to the national championship game, it was like nothing the state of Kentucky had ever seen in the storied rivalry.

Sure, there have been some classics over the years, and maybe nothing can quite ever compare to the original Dream Game in the 1983 NCAA Tournament, but the buildup? It was unprecedented in 2012.

This year's meeting in the NCAA Tournament might take a slight step back from that game two seasons ago, but only slightly - and only because this one's a few games removed from the title game.

But when you take into account UK and Louisville have won the last two national titles and could easily win a third one as well, the buildup for Friday's game at 9:45 p.m. in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis is going be insane.

Alex Poythress had already turned his attention from the postgame celebration on Sunday to Louisville by the time reporters met with him in the locker room.

"We have to," Poythress said. "We got to take it one game at a time, focus on your opponent. We got to come out and play strong, try to take their strengths away."

UK won the regular-season meeting 73-66 at Rupp Arena on Dec. 28. The Cats won that game without the services of Julius Randle for most of the second half because of cramps in his legs.

It was Coach Cal's fifth victory in six games against Louisville since coming to Kentucky.

Since then though, Louisville has returned to its national-championship form of a year ago, winning 14 of its last 15 games behind Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell and a stifling defense.

"They press a lot, they got great guards (and) good bigs," Poythress said. "We just got to come out and try to take those points away and try to break the press and everything like that."

Head down

If someone would have told Calipari before the game that Wichita State would shoot 55.1 percent from the floor and 10 for 21 from behind the arc, he wouldn't have given his team much of a chance.

"I would have said it was a heck of a year," Coach Cal said.

As it turns out, Kentucky matched Wichita State in the shooting column, staying within reaching distance with strong shooting performances from the Harrison twins, James Young and Alex Poythress.

But the Cats didn't rely solely on their jump shots to win. When the game was on the line late, UK took the ball to the hoop.

While Cleanthony Early and Baker seemed to make anything and everything from all spots on the floor, UK made a concerted effort in crunch time to drive to the basket, get a layup or get fouled.

 "In the end they basically just lowered their head," Marshall said. "It seemed they were just driving it and we were having too much body contact. And for the first time this year, it seemed like the rules, the new rules, worked against us as opposed to in our favor. So credit them."

As a result, the Cats shot 14 free throws over the final 4:52 of game time, making 11 of them.

"That was a big key," Marshall said. "We couldn't defend the foul line at the end of the last eight or 10 minutes."

Play of the game

Aaron Harrison hit big shots. Andrew Harrison made clutch free throws. Julius Randle ignited the second-half rally. And James Young hit the biggest shot of the game.

The biggest play of the game in Calipari's eyes, however, was Dakari Johnson's unofficial offensive rebound after Aaron Harrison missed the second of two free throws with 4:11 to play.

Johnson didn't get credit for the rebound because he deflected it off a Wichita State player and out of bounds, but it gave UK the ball back. Andrew Harrison went to the line for two more free throws after the timeout, making both and getting UK within 69-67 with 3:54 left in the game.

"That was the play of the game," Coach Cal said. "If we don't get the ball and get it back to two, I don't think we win the game.

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Matthew Mitchell (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Matthew Mitchell (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
Matthew Mitchell was bordering on surprised, not that his team won, but at how well the Wildcats played during Saturday's NCAA Tournament first-round victory over Wright State.

Even with all the momentum the Kentucky women's basketball team took into the NCAA Tournament coming off a nice run at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Mitchell just wasn't sure what to expect.

Hosting a NCAA Tournament game for the first time, having not played in two weeks and facing a relatively unfamiliar opponent with postseason pressure Mitchell had good reason to feel that.

He ended up witnessing -- and contributing to -- one of the better all-around performances Kentucky has put together all year.

"I certainly didn't come into today with this kind of expectation that we would play this sharp," Mitchell said. "We've historically kind of struggled in this game for whatever reason, because of the long layoff and so my mindset going into the game was just to let them know that they had clear advantages in the game."

Mitchell may not have anticipated his team would play as well as they did, but he certainly enjoyed the 106-60 victory. Much of the success may have been down to his simplified message before the game: to exploit Kentucky's physical advantages be them in terms of size and speed.

"I didn't go in thinking we were going to win by 20, or 40, or anything like that," Mitchell said. "I sort of showed up with the mindset (Saturday) of let me do my part for the victory, let me coach the best that I can and let's see what happens. Nothing that they did really surprised me, but I was extremely pleased and grateful to the players that they came out and executed the game plan."

And so Mitchell turned his attention to Syracuse, Kentucky's second-round opponent, and the challenges the Orange will pose to UK when the two tip off Monday at 6:40 p.m. ET inside Memorial Coliseum.

But instead of focusing on the painstaking details of the matchup, Mitchell has been stressing a similarly simple approach to the one UK used going into Saturday's win. The Wildcats will need to continue to excel in every aspect of the game from here on out should they hope to advance.

Standing in the way will be Syracuse and the many variables that could affect how people play them.

"What I see with them is a team that is able to create some turnovers in a different way than we do," Mitchell said. "They full-court press you, three-quarter court press you, they've got some half-court traps that we're going to have to deal with and then the 2-3 zone, which we've had some success against, but it certainly hasn't been automatic this year. There have been times where we've struggled against the 2-3 zone."

The Orange -- in Mitchell's eyes -- match up far better with UK than Wright State. Thus Mitchell and his Wildcats will look to play even better than they did on Saturday morning. In other words the Wildcats are looking to improve on what was already arguably their best-played game of the season.

"We had a great day yesterday and we had a significant advantage in personnel," Mitchell said. "This game, the difference in personnel is not as great, the advantage is not as great and we have to be ready to play."

Arguably the biggest challenge for the Wildcats could be executing offensively against Syracuse's base 2-3 zone defense, which UK struggled against early in the SEC schedule. But the Wildcats have since shown they can make shots and get the ball to the paint no matter what defense they face.

And yet like their coach, the Wildcats themselves are embracing the challenge of facing a formidable zone defense in the high-pressure NCAA Tournament.

"I think it should be easier for us because it's just one thing we have to focus on, it's the 2-3 zone," UK guard Jennifer O'Neill said. "We don't have to worry about them playing man or trying to switch it to a 3-2 or stuff like that. We know what they're going to play and now we just have to go out and perform and execute."

Samarie Walker also doesn't seem to sweat the prospect of facing a 2-3 zone so long as UK can execute its offensive counterattack to the zone.

"It's a little frustrating for inside players because we don't know where were going to get the ball, we have to work just a little bit harder than (against) man (defense)," the senior forward said. We might not always get the ball on the block which is where we want to get the ball, it's a lot more movement for us but I think by now we should be used to it because that is what we got played most by in the SEC."

For his part, Mitchell seems more concerned with his team playing its best more than he focuses on specific opponent game planning. Although he likely watches plenty of opponents' game film and develops schemes to attack other teams too, Mitchell indicated he goes into big games keeping it simple, focusing more on his team positioning itself to play its best than preventing other teams from playing theirs.
Mitchell admitted as much when asked how he would prepare the Wildcats for playing Syracuse without knowing the injury status of one of the Orange's best players: Brittany Sykes.

"I don't know if this point in time with our team that we make it totally about the opponent," Mitchell said. "We really try and have a good plan that we can execute whether she's playing or not."

The Syracuse sophomore guard has since been ruled out for Monday's game, but the news likely won't change the broader theme for UK.

Mitchell is focused on his team playing its best as early and as often as possible as UK continues into the second round of the the NCAA Tournament.

Andrew Harrison played with an injured elbow and scored 20 points in UK's round-of-32 upset of Wichita State. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Andrew Harrison played with an injured elbow and scored 20 points in UK's round-of-32 upset of Wichita State. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ST. LOUIS -- Speculation ran rampant for the 39 hours or so following Kentucky's win over Kansas State.

Fans broke down the instant replay of the injury Andrew Harrison suffered in the final minutes. Some wondered whether the actual diagnosis was actually more severe than a hyperextension.

The question underlying it all, however, was simple: Would UK's point guard be able to play against Wichita State in the round of 32's most highly anticipated game?

Funnily enough, that's the same question John Calipari had for Andrew Harrison.

"All I asked him was, 'Are you going to play?' " Coach Cal said.

At first, the answer was no. But as game time approached, Andrew Harrison couldn't help but change his mind.

After receiving around-the-clock of treatment in his hotel room overnight, there Andrew Harrison was walking onto the Scottrade Center floor wearing a sleeve over his shooting arm as a starter. In spite of some initial hesitation, he wasn't about to let his elbow keep him away from this moment.

"I wasn't going to play at first, but I felt like I just had to," Andrew Harrison said. "And I fought through it."

His brother, Aaron, always figured he would.

"He knew we needed him and the team knew we needed him," Aaron Harrison said. "And I've known him for a while, so I thought, I knew he was going to play. He wasn't going to sit out this big of a game."

Andrew Harrison played an instrumental role as UK (26-10) handed top-seeded Wichita State (35-1) its first loss, 78-76, in a game that lived up to its billing and then some.

"Without him obviously you know now it would have been a different game," Calipari said. "We couldn't have won the game."

Andrew Harrison didn't wait long to ease concerns about his elbow, scoring UK's second basket and back-to-back jumpers later to give UK a 19-15 lead midway through the first half. He likely would have avoided one or two of his four first-half turnovers and six for the game if he had been 100 percent, but the Cats had their floor general and the game was on.

In a second half filled with body blows and haymakers thrown by both sides, Andrew Harrison landed more than his fair share. He had 13 points after the break, helping to overcome 51 combined points from Wichita State stars Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker and a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Fred VanVleet.

"I said yesterday that he would play and I anticipated him playing and he played great," Wichita State's Gregg Marshall said. "He drove it, drove it, shot it very well. ... Tremendous young player. Tremendous young player who had a great day."

He took advantage of the size that made him such a sought-after point-guard prospect, absorbing contact on drives to the basket and repeatedly getting to the free-throw line. He converted seven of his nine attempts there -- including five of six in the final four minutes -- as UK made 15 of 19 after halftime when every point was precious.

"He did a good job and we know we needed him for real," James Young said. "And he just came out there and just led us to the win."

It was the kind of performance expected of Andrew Harrison this season, though such efforts have only become regular in recent weeks.

He and his brother came to be the faces of the hype surrounding this Kentucky team. It began before they even before they set foot on campus, as the UK fans turned to the "Keep Calm, The Twins Are Coming" mantra to ease their minds during a disappointing 2012-13 season.

That pressure and those expectations, in many ways, came to define both the Harrisons and this team according to the outside world. Inside the walls of the Joe Craft Center, it's never been that way.

"This team and what people said about this team, all we have done all year is continue to get better," Calipari said. "We hit some shots. We missed some. Like every team, you hit a hole that you don't play well. But they believed in themselves."

After some subtle changes made before the postseason, Andrew Harrison is showing that belief to the world and redefining his year and his team's in the process.

Coach Cal believed his point guard would eventually come around.

"Because I have been through this 20 years and I've coached every different kind of point guard," Calipari said. "And I have been in a situation -- I don't know what I was thinking. Tweaked a couple of things for him and all of a sudden he is playing different, he's got a smile on his face."

Injured elbow and all, Andrew Harrison was all smiles as the Cats celebrated wildly on the floor following their upset win and later at the dais for UK's postgame press conference. He's in for a week of treatment on his elbow to get ready for a rivalry rematch with Louisville in the Sweet 16, but Andrew Harrison wasn't feeling much pain on Sunday evening.

"I am better now," he said. "Yeah, I'm good."

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

UK took down top-seeded Wichita State in a thriller in St. Louis on Sunday, 78-76. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK took down top-seeded Wichita State in a thriller in St. Louis on Sunday, 78-76. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ST. LOUIS - The shot was off, the weight was lifted and the perfection was over.

When Fred VanVleet's 3-point attempt bounced off the backboard and dropped harmlessly to the floor, the disappointment of Kentucky's regular season, with one swift, emphatic and stunning performance on Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, suddenly felt like it had vanished.

"It felt like five million pounds off our shoulders when the buzzer went off," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "It was just a good feeling."

With a 78-76 victory over top-seeded Wichita State on Sunday in a game for the ages, UK has not only erased the frustration of the regular season, it set up a chance to write one heck of an ending. The Wildcats (26-10), in ironic, almost poetic fashion given the preseason expectations that were thrown on this group, ended the Shockers' bid for perfection at 35-1.

They did so with their gutsiest performance of the season in the best game of the tournament.

"Heck of a game," John Calipari said. "Really proud of our guys hanging in there and fighting. They never gave up. Wichita State never gave up and had their last chance to win the game. Just proud of the guys."

The Wildcats, who are headed to their fourth Sweet 16 in five years under Coach Cal, stormed the court in celebration as the buzzer went off at the Scottrade Center.

The game warranted it.

Set up with tantalizing storylines (undefeated vs. preseason hopes of perfection), drastic backgrounds (big, bad Kentucky vs. a Missouri Valley Conference school), and contrasts in age and experience, Sunday's UK-Wichita State matchup was billed by some as the best round-of-32 game ever.

Somehow, someway, it actually lived up to the hype.

"This was an Elite Eight game," Calipari said. "The winner of this should have gone to the Final Four. That's what this was."

Kentucky will have to settle for a reward of a matchup vs. archrival Louisville in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis (more on that later), but the Cats will take it after the way things appeared to be headed.

After Wichita State took a 37-31 lead into the halftime locker room and opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Julius Randle shook out of a first-half slump and sparked the Wildcats on an 8-0 run.

From there on out, it was blow for blow, basket for basket, player for player. There were three ties and 14 lead changes Sunday. It was college basketball at its finest, but Kentucky landed the hardest punch.

"I thought it was a great game the whole time it was going on," Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. "It was back and forth. They would have the lead, we would have the lead, they would have the lead, we would have the lead. And ultimately their lead was two or three points."

That haymaker came from James Young, who, after seconds earlier had hit a layup, pulled up from behind the arc and drained a 3 to give UK a 73-71 lead with 1:41 to play.

"It was supposed to be a drive for (Andrew Harrison), but then I guess the defender stopped him a little bit, so he gave the extra pass and I just shot with confidence and it felt good to hit it," Young said.

From there on out, it was a matter of who could withstand the pressure the best. Andrew Harrison, who nearly didn't play Sunday because of a right elbow injury suffered Friday in the Kansas State game, was game.

The freshman guard, who has taken more than his fair share of criticism for UK's 10-loss season, stepped up with three free throws over the final 42 seconds to ice the win.

"I fought through it," Andrew Harrison said of the pain in his elbow. "The elbow, once you get your adrenaline flowing, it felt fine."

Between Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison and Julius Randle, UK hit 11 of 14 free throws over the final 4:52 of game time. One of the only misses - the back end of Andrew Harrison's two free throws with 7.2 seconds left - gave Wichita State a shot to win or tie it, but VanVleet's miss out of a timeout ended a super season for the Shockers.

"It's literally been a magic carpet ride," Marshall said.

The Cats just pulled it out from under them.

"All of the adversity we have been through all season, just to see us coming together as a team and getting better each game and finally get a big win like that, just enjoyed it," Randle said. "Everybody was happy and we just have to keep building on it."

UK shot 54.0 percent for the game - its highest mark since Dec. 21 - knocked down 8 of 18 3-pointers and hit 16 of 22 from the line.

Andrew Harrison led all scorers with 20 points and was clutch down the stretch, but Aaron Harrison was just as big with 19 points and four 3-pointers. Randle rebounded from a rough first half with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Young finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.

Wichita State looked liked it was going to hold UK off when the sensational Cleanthony Early - he of the 31 points and 12-of-17 shooting - hit one of his four 3-pointers go give the Shockers a 69-64 lead with 4:36 left, but there were so many moments the Cats could have died and didn't.

Take, for instance, the nine-point Wichita State lead in the first half when UK suddenly couldn't hang on to the ball. Young answered stole back momentum with a 3 before halftime.

Or the 6-0 run by the Shockers when UK had seized the momentum and the lead, 58-55. Andrew Harrison calmly answered it by getting to the line and making two foul shots.

"Earlier in the year we would have gave in, but it just shows how we've grown," Dakari Johnson said.

Was there some good fortune involved? Maybe a little. One could probably chalk up Aaron Harrison's banked 3-pointer as that.

But for a Kentucky team that had failed to live up to its preseason billing and had so often hit the mat when fights got tough in the regular season, there's something to be said about UK playing itself into a position for its biggest win the year - and perhaps a season-changing one at that.

"A lot of people counted us out the first game, let alone this game," Cauley-Stein said. "It just goes to show that we kept on fighting through all the bad stuff that happened the rest of the season and playing with a will to win and playing with more energy and effort now. That's the game, especially in the tournament."

For the Cats, who talked of a new season when the postseason began last week at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, they've been given a chance to write a new ending.

"They have been through so much," Calipari said. "They have been attacked, they have been bludgeoned, 'they can't play, they're not a team, you can't do it this way.' But they stayed together. It makes you strong. It makes you tough as nails. And we just hung around."

When the game ended and the Cats jogged back to the locker room, the coach who has dragged his bad hip along for the last few months seemed to float to the locker room as he pumped his fist in the air for the fans clad in blue.

Coach Cal said not to mistake his happiness as a sigh of relief.

"If wins are relief, it's time for me to retire," he said. "This was great joy in seeing a group of young men come together and start figuring this out. It took longer than I'd hoped. I told them after the game, I've been hard on you like I've been every team. It's just been a longer process with you guys. But at the end of the day, you are seeing that they understand what's acceptable and what's not acceptable."

Now the stage is set for yet another gargantuan NCAA Tournament showdown with archrival Louisville, the second one in three seasons. Randle admitted he has "no idea" what to expect in the buildup to Friday's titanic showdown in Indy, but he's got time to figure it out.

"I just wish we had another month of the season left, like keep playing, because we're getting better every day," Calipari said. "I just wish, you know, this thing could extend and extend and extend, but obviously it won't."

It will for at least one more week and without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Numbers reveal few Wichita State weaknesses

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John Calipari addresses reporters at a press conference on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) John Calipari addresses reporters at a press conference on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ST. LOUIS -- As it happens so often for John Calipari's Kentucky team, the narrative entering the Wildcats' round-of-32 matchup with Wichita State is based on contrast.

In one corner there's UK, the uber-talented and uber-athletic group of freshmen and sophomores. In the other there's Wichita State, the outsized and under-recruited group of veterans with experience and cohesiveness on their side.

But for all the (oftentimes overplayed) differences, there's one thing the two teams unquestionably have in common: mutual respect.

"They play really hard," John Calipari said. "They have really good players. You don't go 35 or 36-0 or whatever they are without having really good players. And they have really good players. And they play hard and compete."

Coach Cal's Wichita State counterpart had a similarly glowing review on the eve of the matchup between his top-seeded Shockers (35-0) and Kentucky (25-10).

"With Kentucky you have not only a great style of play, but you have seven McDonald's All-Americans," head coach Gregg Marshall said. "You have guys that will play at the highest level very soon. I don't know how long; I am sure Cal would like to keep a couple of them around. But you have some of the best athletes at their age in the world."

Not only are the Shockers familiar with the Cats, they also know the history of the Kentucky program well. Marshall, for instance, named four of the five leading scorers from UK's 1978 national-title team off hand -- Jack Givens, Rick Robey, Kyle Macy and Mike Phillips.

"One of the storied programs in the history of college basketball," Marshall said. "Eight national championships and preseason No. 1. So certainly our guys are excited for this challenge and they are ready to go."

Ron Baker won't be teaching any history lessons like his coach probably could, but he has family in the Kentucky area and even a father who is a fan.

"When you hear 'Kentucky,' you think of basketball," the sophomore guard said.

Wichita State has a history of its own, including Final Four appearances in 1965 and 2013. All of the Shockers' major contributors this season were on that 2013 team that took eventual national champion Louisville to the wire.

"They've been there for three to four years so they know their coaching staff and they've been through a lot of stuff to get where they're at," Willie Cauley-Stein said. "There's a reason why they're successful."

It's now UK that stands in the way of the Shockers bid for history. Cauley-Stein, in a way only he can, broke down the matchup.

"They're playing with a lot of swag right now but we're also playing with a lot of swag right now, so the swags are going to intertwine and whoever fights more is going to win the game," Cauley-Stein said.

The outcome, however, will be decided by more than just intertwining swags. Let's go to the numbers to figure out how using's advanced stats.

When Kentucky is on offense

Defensively, Wichita State conspicuously lacks weaknesses.

The Shockers are only average in the turnover department, forcing mistakes on 18.3 percent of possessions (175th nationally), but they rank in the top 11 in both effective field-goal percentage defense (.442) and defensive-rebounding percentage (.740), and a solid 71st in defensive free-throw rate.

In other words, the Cats are going to have to earn whatever they get.

Barring a remarkable night, UK can't expect to shoot the lights out on Sunday. The Cats haven't been a knockdown shooting team -- ranking 171st in effective field-goal percentage -- all season and shouldn't expect that to change against a defense that ranks 10th nationally in adjusted efficiency.

Where UK likely needs to make its hay is in attacking the basket and the offensive glass. As well as Wichita State has rebounded and protected the rim this season, the Shockers haven't faced a team with UK's length and athleticism.

Wichita State did defeat Tennessee and its bruising forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, but Marshall sees Kentucky in a different light.

"These guys are like a total eclipse when you go in there," Marshall said. "It is a different deal. And they are much more vertical. Cauley-Stein is a vertical guy. Maymon is a wall builder. Jarnell Stokes at 6-7 is talented but not as big as (Dakari) Johnson."

When Kentucky is on defense

Wichita State offense is much like its defense: solid in nearly all facets. The Shockers' 11th-ranked unit is no worse than 66th in any of's Four Factors. No other team in the country even ranks in the top 100 of all four.

If you want to stretch for a weakness, your best bet is 3-point shooting. The Shockers are just 159th nationally in that category at 34.6 percent and have shown a propensity for attempting more than the numbers suggest they should. Wichita State attempts 36.5 percent of its shots from 3, well above the national average of 32.9 percent.

For UK's defense to have success at the level needed to score an upset, the Cats will need to contest first shots well as they have all season in ranking 11th in effective field-goal percentage defense and close out possessions with defensive rebounds. Since Wichita State takes of the ball so well and UK forces turnovers so infrequently (16.3 percent of opponent possessions), the Cats can't afford to give the Shockers any extra opportunities.

Style of play

Wichita State has the athletes to get out and run, but the Shockers thrive in the half court. They are 241st nationally in adjusted tempo and Kentucky 203rd. This suggests Sunday's game will be a slow-paced one that requires the young Cats to be tuned in from start to finish.

That's how the Shockers' second-round game was, which caught the attention of Cal Poly head coach Joe Callero.

"The thing about Wichita State is what we want to emulate most in our program is they very, very, very rarely take any plays off," Callero said. "Their defensive attention and focus and offensive attention and focus is excellent. As good is there is in basketball, college basketball."

As detailed above, both teams play solid defense. Missed shots, as a result, could be plentiful. If that does prove to be the case, Baker's analysis could be prophetic.

"It will be a war on the glass and I think the winner on the glass will win the game," Baker said.

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will take on top-seeded Wichita State on Sunday afternoon. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Willie Cauley-Stein and the Wildcats will take on top-seeded Wichita State on Sunday afternoon. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
ST. LOUIS -- Imagine you're a Kentucky fan still living in October 2013 and have a chance to travel through time to March 2014.

You, swelling with the anticipation of the season and talk of a possible 40-0 season, land in the bowels of the Scottrade Center and end up in the Wildcats' locker room on Saturday afternoon. You see the cameras, the reporters and a feeling of overwhelming hype and you think to yourself, "Everything has gone as planned."

Only, it's not the plan of the Kentucky Wildcats.

Instead, when eighth-seeded UK (25-10) takes the court on Sunday with a chance to advance to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five seasons, it will be the Wichita State Shockers (35-0) -- not the preseason No. 1 team -- who are looking to continue an undefeated if not improbable season.

The irony -- from every end of the spectrum -- is as thick as it is juicy. If it isn't the most compelling round-of-32 matchup over the last decade or so, it's certainly the most intriguing of this hard-to-turn-away-from tournament.

Sunday will feature so many storylines that reporters -- including this one -- were tripping over themselves Friday night when Kentucky finished off Kansas State.

You've got kids who were recruited by every school in the country vs. kids who were overlooked by most. There's the big school with the big fan base -- perhaps the most recognizable in all of college basketball -- against the little guys in the Missouri Valley Conference. Then there's the whole one-and-done freshman team vs. the older, more experienced group.

And of course, this one will pit a team that was discussed as a potential 40-0 team against one that's kept the dream alive.

UK sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, sitting in that locker room on Saturday with a dozen or so reporters in his face, almost sounded glad his team, the one that was favored to win it all at the beginning of the season, is the one trying to play spoiler.

To think about being undefeated at this point in the year and trying to complete what has never been done before (other teams have gone undefeated; just never 40-0) is a burden Cauley-Stein is happy his team doesn't have.

"That's a lot of unwanted pressure to think about," Cauley-Stein said. "I mean, you see where that got us in the beginning of the year before we even played a game. It's just an unwanted burden."

Those expectations -- perhaps impossible to meet for 18- and 19-year-olds playing against one of the nation's toughest schedules in unrelenting pressure and under the national spotlight at Kentucky -- nearly ended up destroying Kentucky's season for the second year in a row.

The Cats lost 10 games this season -- way more than anyone could have anticipated -- but they've turned it around and are still in a position to achieve their ultimate goals of a Final Four berth and national championship.

In hindsight, Cauley-Stein said the pressure was unfair on them.

"That's just unnecessary pressure on us, especially for guys that don't really know how to play with a team," he said. "They've all been that dude on their team in high school, so like the stuff runs through them and now you've got eight guys that can play the game of basketball instead of just one or two. We're figuring out that if you share the ball you're still going to get a lot of shots and probably more. That's the difference of who Wichita State is and who we are. They've been here for three to four years and know how to play with each other. We're just figuring it out."

The Cats are figuring out late in the year how to be more like Wichita State and less like the talented but divided group of individuals they were at beginning of the season, but it still doesn't change the backgrounds and the tantalizing story heading into Sunday.

From the recruiting side of things, Wichita State is a group of kids that, according to Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall, weren't even on the "second-level down from Kentucky's recruits."

None of Wichita State's players sitting at the podium on Saturday -- Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter -- said they were recruited by UK.

"I bet not one player on our team got a form letter from Kentucky," Marshall said.

Likewise, Marshall never recruited a single player on UK's roster or, believe it or not, even heard of them because of an inability to talk to kids of that caliber at a program like Wichita State.

"It's just a whole different level of recruiting and whatnot," Marshall said. "They do what works well for them and we try to do what works well for us."

And the Shockers do pretty much everything well.

Since their surprising run to the Final Four last season, which included an upset of the top seed in their region, Gonzaga, and a near victory over eventual national champion Louisville, all they've done is win. Thirty-five in a row, to be exact.

While the resume lacks quality wins -- the Shockers have beaten the likes of Tennessee and BYU but hadn't played an NCAA Tournament opponent since Dec. 22 until Friday night -- part of that has to do with Wichita State's quality of play and not the school's inability to schedule top-level teams.

The school took a major blow when Creighton left the conference for greener pastures, but more so than that, few people want to play the Shockers without an unfair deal that Wichita State's athletic director is wisely not settling for.

So Wichita State just keeps playing who it plays and keeps winning.

"You don't go 35 or 36-0 or whatever they are without having really good players," Calipari said. "And they have really good players."

But even those really good players, a couple of whom have watched Kentucky basketball from afar, realize the magnitude of Sunday's game. While UK is trying to rewrite its season, Wichita State is trying to validate its.

"This is a big step in the road," Baker sad. "It is a big game for us as players, individuals, for our university. And you kind of look at it as a bigger picture."

Marshall, whose attention to detail was on full display Saturday when he rattled off memories, names from his past and even a UK game in the 1970s, has actually embraced the run for perfection with his team. He wants his group to be special and keep the winning streak going, but he also doesn't want his players to look past the weekend.

"Our goal this weekend is to be 2-0 and to win two games in order to get to the next weekend," Marshall said. "Right now we have won one and we have one to go."

Calipari, on the flipside, doesn't want his team to get caught up in the fray, but there's little hiding the juiciness or the irony of Sunday's UK-Wichita State game.

"At this point I just don't want my team to make this game bigger than it is," Coach Cal said. "It's a basketball game."

A basketball game with some seriously good storylines.

To bring you more expansive coverage, and Cat Scratches will be joining forces for the postseason. You can read the same great stories you are accustomed to from both sites at and, but now you'll enjoy even more coverage than normal.

Samarie Walker had 12 points and 14 rebounds in UK's 106-60 first-round win over Wright State on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Samarie Walker had 12 points and 14 rebounds in UK's 106-60 first-round win over Wright State on Saturday. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
On paper, UK had a significant inside edge against Wright State. The Wildcats were bigger, stronger and had the stats to back it up.

In an NCAA Tournament win, the Cats made sure that edge counted on the floor.

"They had physical advantages in size, speed, depth, and so I really tried to go into the game thinking about just playing 40 minutes, coaching them, encouraging them and making sure that we moved on to the next round," UK head coach Matthew Mitchell said.

UK (25-8) blew past the visiting Raiders (26-9) in hosting a first-round game for the first time in school history, claiming a double-digit lead in barely five minutes and never looking back. The Cats set school NCAA Tournament records for points and margin of victory in a 106-60 that saw them do much more than survive in advancing to the round of 32.

"I think our personnel and our depth probably helped wear them down a little bit physically, so I think just our depth and our overall talent was the reason we were able to be so successful," Mitchell said.

From the very beginning, it was UK's potent post game that set the tone against a Wright State team that primarily played a four-guard lineup.

Samarie Walker --a proven producer in the NCAA Tournament -- had a double-double by halftime and finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds in just 24 minutes. Walker, a senior, seemed intent to make her final shot at playing in March count.

Walker, as well as she played, was hardly UK's only player to get it done inside.

DeNesha Stallworth (11 points, nine rebounds), Azia Bishop (10 points, eight rebounds) and Linnae Harper (12 points, seven rebounds) nearly had double-doubles of their own. The Cats had a school-record 67 rebounds as a team, tying an NCAA Tournament record for all schools and holding a plus-27 rebounding edge --tying a season high -- in a fast-paced game.

"Rebounding is always an emphasis for us," Mitchell said. "Coach makes sure that we know that's what we need to do every game no matter who we're playing. This time, he definitely emphasized that and especially since we had a size advantage, there was no reason for us to lose the boards today."

In topping the century mark, UK shot 55 percent from the field -- its second-best percentage of the season -- getting good looks inside over and over. The Cats outscored Wright State in the paint, 66-26, setting up a second-round matchup with either No. 6 Syracuse or No. 11 Chattanooga at 6:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

"That's the way we've been practicing," Jennifer O'Neill said. "Today everybody was just clicking on all cylinders. We had seven people in double-digits so everybody was clicking on all cylinders today."

When UK did venture away the basket, it was O'Neill who most often did the damage. She scored a game-high 21 points and hit all four of her 3-point attempts. O'Neill credited her big day to the way her bigger teammates played.

"It freed us up a lot," O'Neill said. "We were able to play an inside-out game and that's something that we have been struggling with. We've been struggling to get post touches, and this game Matthew told us that height was going to be an advantage and we just looked to go to them as much as possible."

That advantage paid off on the defensive end of the floor as well.

Wright State entered Saturday's game fourth in the nation in scoring at 84.0 points per game, but the Raiders never could find a rhythm against Kentucky. UK held its opponent to 19-of-82 (23.2 percent) shooting and blocked a season-high 12 shots in the process.

"I think that we had a real advantage personnel-wise and we had some size advantages that made it difficult for them to score at the rim," Mitchell said.

Stallworth had five of UK's blocks, Bishop four, Jelleah Sidney two and Walker one, helping to frustrate Wright State's Kim Demmings. Averaging 22.7 points before facing UK, Demmings scored just 12 points on 5-of-20 shooting.

A raucous home crowd loved every second of it, helping build the energy the Cats brought from the opening tip. In past years, UK has had its struggles against first-round opponents, but not this time.

Nearly two weeks removed from heartbreaking loss to Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference Tournament title game, the Cats were raring to go.

"I think we kind of felt that sadness from the loss and we wanted to make a run in the tournament," Walker said. "That's what we came here to do."

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