Ron Baker scored 13 points and Fred VanVleet added 12 as No. 11 Wichita State beat No. 6 Arizona, 65–55, in one of the more impressive performances from the opening day of first-round play in the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats struggled to score early against the Shockers’ defense, which entered Thursday leading the nation in adjusted points allowed per possession, according to Kenpom.com. Arizona missed 12 of its first 15 shots, scored only 0.64 PPP in the first half and trailed Wichita State by double digits going into the break after VanVleet and Baker, the Shockers’ star senior guards, combined for 17 points. It only got worse from there for Arizona, as Wichita State opened up a 24-point lead midway through the second half. The Wildcats cut into the lead with an 11–0 run, but the Shockers regained control with a pair of baskets by forward Anton Grady and then cruised to a comfortable victory. The defining image of the final 20 minutes was Wildcats coach Sean Miller, having already perspired through his dress shirt, frustratingly shouting instructions from the sidelines.
Why it mattered
Wichita State was considered a bubble team entering selection Sunday. In its two games, however, it’s looked like one of the better squads in the tournament. After notching a 20-point win over a Vanderbilt team with multiple NBA prospects in the First Four, the Shockers rolled an Arizona team that led the Pac-12 in offensive efficiency during conference play, per Kenpom. The Wildcats could not contain VanVleet and Baker, and the Shockers stifled Arizona on the other end of the floor. If there were any skepticism about Wichita State when it dropped two of three games to Illinois State and Northern Iowa during conference play, the Shockers have erased it. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team looks primed to make a deep run.
Wichita State will take on No. 3 Miami in the second round on Saturday in Providence. The Hurricanes beat No. 14 Buffalo, 79–72, earlier on Thursday. Miami should pose a tougher challenge for the Shockers than Arizona, as the Hurricanes are of the nation’s top offensive teams, ranking 12th nationally in adjusted points per possession, according to Kenpom.com, and are also led by a talented and experienced backcourt.