Wichita State moves on to final 8
Malcolm Armstead and his Wichita State teammates told each other they could be a Final Four team last summer.
Now the Shockers are one win away from a place the program hasn't been since 1965.
They rolled past La Salle 72-58 in the West Regional semifinals on Thursday night. Next up is No. 2 seed Ohio State in Saturday's regional final.
"It's a big game and I am feeling another upset," reserve guard Nick Wiggins said. "We belong here."
Armstead scored 18 points, Carl Hall added 16 and freshman Ron Baker had 13 for the ninth-seeded Shockers in their latest win, proving their upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the third round was no fluke.
"To see we're one game away from it, it's like a dream come true," Armstead said. "But you still have to stay focused on this next game. You can't bypass it and look forward to the Final Four yet."
Wichita State overwhelmed La Salle from the opening tip on its way to the school's first final eight appearance since 1981.
"It's like I'm in a dream still with this whole Elite Eight situation," Hall said.
The Shockers opened the game on a 14-2 run and ended the first half with a 9-1 spurt. They started the second half by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers for a 22-point lead.
La Salle never got closer than 11 points in the second half, when the Explorers outscored the Shockers 36-34.
"It took us a half to kind of adjust to the level they were playing at," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "The second half was pretty evenly played, but we were in just too deep of a hole."
Ninth-seeded Wichita State (29-8) tied the school's 2010-11 team for most victories. That group won the NIT title. These Shockers want much more.
"We need one more win to seal this deal and go back home and get ready for the Final Four," Baker said. "We're just going to grab this opportunity the best we can."
The Shockers beat Kansas by two points to get to the final eight in 1981. They didn't need to take down a giant this time, just a 6,500-student school from Philadelphia that scrapped its way 2,754 miles from an at-large berth in Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles.
"That was the game plan early on, try to wear them down, pound it inside, and get inside-out shots, and that's what we came up," Armstead said.
Jerrell Wright and Tyrone Garland led the Explorers with 16 points each. Ramon Galloway, who averages a team-leading 17.4 points, was held to 11 for a program that won the 1954 NCAA championship and reached the 1955 national title game.
La Salle (24-10) didn't have the depth to hold its own against Wichita State, which owned a 47-29 rebounding edge and outscored the Explorers 40-26 in the paint, helped by Hall, who had 14 points in the first half.
"It was kind of an easy night for us on the inside because they only really have one post player," Hall said.
The Shockers limited La Salle to 36 percent shooting - the same as Gonzaga shot in its third-round loss.
"They were all over the place. They came to play," Galloway said.
Hall sat down with his third foul while La Salle was busy whittling its deficit to 11 points by attacking the rim. But the Explorers never got within single digits, and Armstead scored nine straight points to push Wichita State's lead to 62-47. Another 6-0 spurt, capped by Cleanthony Early's dunk, made it 68-48.
"Armstead was huge at that point," Giannini said. "He had three, four big buckets in a row and we were scoring. But if we get the stops, that 10, 11, 12-point game is a four- to eight-point game, and then you really have a chance. But Armstead wouldn't allow it. When we threatened, he was the one that really responded."
The Shockers hit two straight 3-pointers to open the second half and push their lead to 22 points.
La Salle turned aggressive, answering with a 10-0 run to close to 44-32, with Wright scoring the first seven points and Galloway making a 3-pointer.
The Explorers got shocked to start the game, with Wichita State outscoring them 14-2. The Shockers ended the half on a 9-1 run, including five by Baker, to lead 38-22 at the break. La Salle was held to 27 percent shooting, while Wichita State shot 53 percent and dominated the paint 24-10.
Hall's teammates repeatedly found him down on the block and he muscled in layups over the smaller Explorers.
Galloway missed his first six shots. He finally made a 3-pointer that drew the Explorers within eight, but Wichita State quickly restored its lead to double digits.
Although 6-foot-11 center Steve Zack was cleared to play, he didn't and the Explorers missed his added height and inside presence. Zack had been out the previous six games with a sprained foot.
"He had a lot of soreness today, and we didn't think he could move well enough to help us in the game," Giannini said.