PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker combined for 29 points and Wichita State’s swarming defense did the rest as the Shockers beat Arizona 65-55 on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Wichita State (26-8) will play Miami (26-7), the third seed in the South Region, on Saturday.
Arizona coach Sean Miller called a timeout 53 seconds into the game after VanVleet and Baker pounced on a loose ball in the Wildcats end. It was evident from the outset that Wichita State’s in-your-face defense was going to be the decisive factor against Arizona (25-9).
The Shockers forced 19 turnovers they converted into 22 points and snared nine steals.
Arizona’s big three of Ryan Anderson, Gabe York, and Allonzo Trier, each averaging 15 points, combined for 28.
The Shockers didn’t flinch at Arizona 7-footer Kaleb Tarczewski. They were used to coping with big guys, using terrific team defense in the post to beat a Vanderbilt team with three 7-footers by 20 points in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night.
Wichita State’s senior backcourt of Baker and VanVleet, who were part of the Shockers’ 2013 Final Four team, led the way in that one, combining for a triple double (28 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists).
It was more of the same against the Wildcats.
Wichita State built a 31-19 halftime lead and cruised. Baker set up Shaquille Morris for a rim-rattling slam that he converted into a three-point play for a 46-27 lead with 13:38 left.
Conner Frankamp followed with a 3 from the left corner and drained two free throws after Arizona was whistled for a technical, boosting the lead to a daunting 22 points.
The Wildcats staged a late rally, Gordon’s 3 and a slam by Anderson moving them within 53-40 with 7:56 on the clock.
Five points from Kadeem Allen, a pair of blocks by Tarczewski, and two free throws by York moved the Wildcats within 60-51 with 96 seconds left. When the ball glanced out of bounds off York in the final minute, Baker yelled ‘Yeah!’ with the victory secure.
WICHITA STATE: Wichita State has reached 25 wins seven straight times, besting Cincinnati’s mark of six seasons in a row from 1957-63. … The victory over Arizona was VanVleet’s 120th, tying him with Tekele Cotton for the school and conference record.
ARIZONA: Was ranked 17th in the most recent AP poll. … Wildcats are 54-32 in the tournament.
Wichita State: Second-round game against Miami.
Arizona: Season over.