9:56 PM PDT, March 30, 2013
Wichita State is off to its first Final Four since 1965 with the appropriate nickname: Shockers.
The ninth-seeded team from Kansas concluded its siege through the West Regional on Saturday with a 70-66 win over Ohio State in front of 17,998 at Staples Center.
Wichita State is the first team seeded No. 9 to reach the Final Four since Penn in 1979. That was also the last year a team from the Missouri Valley Conference made it: You may remember Indiana State, Larry Bird and the Sycamores.
"I understand they're shooting off fireworks in the city," Wichita State Coach Gregg Marshall said after the win.
The win over Ohio State wasn't a major upset, it was a mid-major upset.
Who would have thought two weeks ago the team from Kansas advancing to the Final Four would be the Shockers, not the Jayhawks?
"I'm still pinching myself and still can't wake up," freshman guard Fred Van Vleet said. "It's been a hell of a ride, but we still got games to play."
Wichita State (30-8) will play the Duke-Louisville winner next Saturday in Atlanta.
Not bad for a Shockers' team that lost the MVC this year to Creighton, knocked out of the NCAA tournament by Duke.
This wasn't really supposed to be a dream season as the Shockers had to replace five starters.
The team's "play angry" mantra has sustained it through four tournament victories.
Let's be clear: Wichita State bullied, not lucked, its way through the regional.
"Tremendous, unbelievable basketball team," Ohio State Coach Thad Matta said. "They're playing as well as any team we've played this year."
In the NCAA tournament, Wichita State defeated Pittsburgh by 18 points, Gonzaga by six and La Salle by 14 before putting No. 2 Ohio State (29-8) away Saturday.
Gonzaga was the No. 1 team in the West, and the nation, and Ohio State was looking to make a repeat trip to the Final Four. The Buckeyes were in search of their first NCAA title since 1960.
"I don't think we're a Cinderella at all," Marshall said. "Cinderellas are usually done by this stage. If you get to this point, you can win the whole thing."
Wichita State has played suffocating defense throughout the tournament and didn't stop Saturday. The Shockers held Ohio State to 31.1% shooting. The Buckeyes made only five of 25 three-point shots and were out-rebounded by Wichita State, 40-37.
Wichita State led by 12 points after one half and upped the margin to 22 points on Cleanthony Early's basket with 12 minutes 5 seconds left.
A turning point came, though, when Early turned his left ankle at the 11-minute mark with Wichita State leading by 20 points.
Ohio State quickly cut the lead to 11 points before Early returned with 7:41 left.
Marshall figured Early, his 6-foot-8 junior forward, would be OK. It seems he has a flair for the dramatic.
"I had seen that many times this season," Marshall said. "I thought we'd have to call the ambulance or get out a stretcher. … I heard he was getting X-rays and next thing I know he's back in the game."
The Buckeyes had one more big push left, cutting the lead to three points with 2:49 left on two Shannon Scott free throws.
Marshall had flashbacks to 2007, when his Winthrop squandered a 20-point lead in the tournament to Notre Dame. Winthrop eventually rallied to win.
As Marshall watched Saturday's lead dwindle, he thought to himself, "I could be the dumbest coach in America."
The game's crucial sequence came in the final two minutes with Wichita State up, 65-61.
Van Vleet missed a shot but teammate Tekele Cotton out-jumped Ohio State's LaQuinton Ross for the offensive rebound.
Cotton is 6-2 and Ross is 6-8.
"It was just will," Cotton said after. "Just will. I wanted the ball more."
Van Vleet worked the clock down and then tossed up a shot that hit the rim three times before rolling in.
That put Wichita State up by six points with a minute left, and it was followed by two free throws from freshman Ron Baker.
Marshall said Cotton's offensive rebound epitomized what his team has done throughout the tournament.
Cotton is Wichita State's lock-down defender and dirty-works player.
Senior guard Malcolm Armstead also did a terrific defensive job on Craft, holding Ohio State's star guard to two-for-12 shooting.
Wichita State's Final Four comes nearly 50 years after the Shockers last appearance in 1965. They lost in the national semifinals to eventual champion UCLA and then got pummeled in the consolation game by Princeton.
That was the game Princeton's Bill Bradley scored a tournament-record 58 points.
"It's been a while," Marshall said.
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times