By Michael Williams
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – The last time the Kentucky Wildcats and Wichita State Shockers met in the NCAA tournament, the Shockers were on a team-record 35-game win streak and held a No. 1 seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The eighth-seeded Wildcats narrowly edged past the Shockers in a 78-76 victory that was regarded at the time as an “instant classic.’
When another generation of Wildcats and Shockers meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday afternoon, the meeting from three years ago will be a thing of the past. “It’s not talked about too much,” said Shocker player Conner Frankkamp. “Obviously, it was a very historic game against two very good teams. Both teams are different now. It’s a new game for us now.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari felt the same way. “It was a long time ago, and I haven’t watched it,” Calipari said on Saturday. “We’re going to have to play a heck of a game to win the game, and play better than we did last night.”
Shocker coach Gregg Marshall offered his perspective. “The bottom line is the only two guys that remember that game, are Coach Cal and I,” he said. “Everyone else is new.”
Derek Willis was on Kentucky’s roster when the two played. “Just thought it was coached really well,” he said. “I thought they were in a lot of good really good schemes…They got a nice shot off at the end, but we walked away with the ‘W’. Just a dog fight.”
This meeting does have one thing in common with the previous game. Instead of being on a school-record winning streak of 35, the Shockers are on their second-longest winning streak of 16. Wichita State hasn’t lost since its 62-76 defeat at Illinois State on January 14. Since that loss, they have defeated 14 teams by a margin of 15 or more.
Marshall seems to come into the game with a chip on his shoulder being on a mid-major team. “They just try to weed us out, if you will,” said Marshall. “Teams like Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s and Wichita State, we’re just determined that that’s not going to be so easy. That’s the deal for us. We want to make it really hard.”
Kentucky players seemed to shrug off the criticism from mid-level schools and their fans. “We’re just here to play basketball, “said freshman forward Bam Adebayo. “Stick with our teammates and just be together.”
To sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe, the responsibility is clear. “Our concern is us,” he said. “We focus on us. As long as we go out there play with energy, play hard and play Kentucky basketball, I think we’ll have a great chance to win.”
Briscoe and Wichita State’s Markis McDuffie met four times in high school in New Jersey. Briscoe came out ahead in these matchups, winning three. In their four matchups, McDuffie averaged 16 points, 5 rebounds. Briscoe averaged 19 points, 5 rebounds in their meetings. “He’s a good player, that’s all I really remember,” said Briscoe when looking back on these matchups.
While the Shockers look to upset the Wildcats, Kentucky will look to continue the success it has enjoyed in Indianapolis. The Wildcats have played eight NCAA Tournament games, winning six of them, including upsetting Michigan in the 2014 regional final when the eighth-seeded Wildcats defeated the second-seeded Wolverines, 75-72.