INDIANAPOLIS — Bam Adebayo timed it perfectly, slapping the shot away with his right hand less than a second before the buzzer sounded. For the 13th game in a row, Kentucky’s fabulous freshmen had their hands all over another win.
Wham, Bam, move on ‘Cats, right into the Sweet 16.
The youngest team in March Madness grew up in the closing minutes on Sunday and sent Wichita State to yet another second-round heartbreak, 65-62 in the NCAA Tournament .
“They’re young, but they have a will to win and play with courage and are skilled basketball players and great kids who share,” coach John Calipari said.
The freshman trio made all of the significant plays in the final minutes.
De’Aaron Fox had 14 points, including a late steal and dunk. Malik Monk blocked a shot and made two free throws in the final 13 seconds. Adebayo had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and he finished it off by swatting away Landry Shamet’s 3-point attempt as it left his hand with less than a second left.
“He pump-faked, and I knew he had to shoot it so I just went up and tried to block it,” Adebayo said.
As simple as that.
Kentucky (31-5) moved into the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in nine years. The Shockers (31-5) were wiping away tears after another crushing second-round loss.
It felt familiar.
Three years ago, Wichita State was 35-0 when it lost to Kentucky 78-76 in the second round, crestfallen after Fred Van Vleet’s 3-pointer missed at the buzzer. This time, their attempt at a tying 3 never had a chance. Shamet finished with 20 points.
Coach Gregg Marshall thought the Shockers were slighted when they got a No. 10 seed. He wasn’t sure what fans would make of another close call against the eight-time national champions.
“How many years do we have to do this to make people respect our program? I don’t know,” Marshall said. “I know that we have the heart of a champion.”
Wichita State: Marshall referred to Adebayo as “a mountain of a man” and someone the Shockers had to control. The 6-foot-10, 260-pound freshman had 15 points and 18 rebounds - the third-most for Kentucky in an NCAA Tournament game - during an opening win over Northern Kentucky. The Shockers limited him to two points in the first half, but lost track of him a couple times early in the second half for dunks that got him started .
Kentucky: Monk - the SEC’s player of the year - missed all of his six shots from beyond the arc and finished with 12 points in the opening-round victory, eight below his average. Calipari later said he’s been limited by a bruised lower back. Against the Shockers, he was 3 of 10 in 29 minutes.
Wichita State had the longest active winning streak in the tournament with 16 in a row — the second-longest in school history behind the 35-0 start three years ago. Kentucky now has the longest active winning streak at 13 games.
Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp hurt his left leg in a collision and limped to the bench with 4:44 to go, costing the Shockers one of their best perimeter shooters. He didn’t return until the closing seconds and finished with six points.
The Bluegrass State sent three teams to Indianapolis. Kentucky knocked out Northern Kentucky in the opening round. Louisville, also a No. 2 seed in the Midwest, lost to Michigan 73-69 in the earlier game on Sunday.
The rematch marked only the second time in NCAA Tournament history that two 30-win teams played in the first weekend. On March 24, 2008, No. 2 Tennessee (30-4) beat No. 7 Butler (30-3) in overtime 76-71 in the second round.
Kentucky faces No. 3 UCLA or No. 6 Cincinnati next Friday in Memphis, the site of the South Regional.
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