By Keith Taylor
KyForward Senior Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Kentucky and Wichita State aren’t rivals, but based on the previous meeting between the two schools, it’s hard to believe they’ve only met once on the hardwood.
Three years ago, the Wildcats defeated the Shockers 78-76 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in St. Louis, putting an end to Wichita State’s perfect season and advanced to the national championship game. The Shockers were a No. 1 seed at the time and Kentucky was seeded eighth.
Although one of the most monumental NCAA Tournament victories in John Calipari’s tenure as coach of the Wildcats, the Kentucky coach hasn’t given the contest much thought going into Sunday’s second-round matchup between the two teams at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“It was a long time ago and I haven’t watched it,” Calipari said. “I watched it after the game. They had the last shot to win the game, so it was a good battle.”
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall showed his current team footage from the contest to give the Shockers an idea of what to expect this time around. During the film session Saturday, Marshall gained more appreciation for the contest while strolling down memory lane.
“I didn’t even realize it until after the game what a great game it was, because I hate giving up that many points,” he said.
Despite the epic contest, both teams said it won’t have any bearing when they meet for just the second time in school history. Most of the players on both rosters didn’t even play in the previous game or weren’t yet enrolled, but many of them are aware of what transpired in that Midwest Region second-round contest in 2014.
“It was a very historic game against two very good teams,” Wichita State junior guard Conner Frankamp said. “Both teams are very different now. It’s just a new game for us.”
It’s also will mark just the second time in tournament two teams with 30 or more wins will meet in the second round of the prestigious event. Kentucky (30-5) has won 12 straight, while Wichita State has reeled off 16 consecutive victories, the two longest current streaks in the nation.
“This doesn’t get ay better,” Marshall said. “You’re playing Kentucky and they’re one of the handful of blue-blood programs in the country. And it’s something crazy like Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina have 20-something national championships between the three of them (in the same bracket). It’s quite the road. You’ve got to take one stop at a time and the next game is Kentucky and we’re excited about it.”
The Shockers, a No. 10 seed in the South Region, defeated Dayton 64-58 in the tournament opener, while the Wildcats, seeded No. 2, held off instate foe Northern Kentucky 79-70 Friday night. Calipari got his first glimpse of the Shockers in the tournament opener and came away impressed with Marshall’s squad.
“We’re going to have to have a heck of a game to win the game (and) we know that, and play better than we played (Friday) to win the game,” Calipari said. “I’m looking forward to it just because I know how good they are. It’s going to be a hard game and I want to see how my young guys respond.”
While Wichita State poses a potential concern, Kentucky’s players are staying focused on themselves instead of thinking outside the box.
“Our concern is us,” Briscoe said. “We focus on us. As long as we go out there, play with energy, play hard and play Kentucky basketball, we’ll have a great chance to win.”
“I’ve got to worry about my team playing their best,” Calipari said. “If they don’t do that, then it’s done. If we play our best, let’s see if that’s good enough. We don’t know. We’ll see, though.”
Next game: Kentucky vs. Wichita State, NCAA Tournament, 2:40 p.m., Sunday. TV/Radio: CBS, 98.1 FM WBUL.
Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter