Wichita St. 75, Washington St. 44

Gregg Marshall has always believed that his team belonged in the

NCAA tournament. He sees two teams in the Final Four that Wichita

State nearly beat, then considers how well the Shockers have played

to reach the NIT championship game.

”These kids were very disappointed, we talked about this ad

nauseam, they wanted to go to the NCAA tournament,” Marshall said

Tuesday night, shortly after his Shockers blitzed Washington State

77-45 in the NIT semifinals. ”We came here, and here we are

playing for a title.”

Garrett Stutz had a career-high 24 points with 11 rebounds,

Toure Murry added 13 points and the Shockers (28-8) surpassed the

1954 team for the most wins in school history in impressive

fashion. They’ll try to win one more against Alabama on Thursday

night.

”That’s about as well as we’ve played in a long time, and I’m

just so happy these guys are continuing to play,” Marshall said.

”They really showed a lot of resilience, and they’re playing

better, and that’s what you want your team to do, play better at

the end.”

Wichita State played awfully well at times earlier this season,

too.

It led Connecticut for about 37 minutes at the Maui Invitational

before losing 83-79, then watched VCU hit two free throws with 0.8

seconds left to steal a 68-67 victory in February.

Both of those teams are in the Final Four in Houston.

The Missouri Valley often gets more than one team into the NCAA

tournament, but a down year for the conference meant only Indiana

State – the team that beat Wichita State in the league tournament –

got in as an automatic qualifier. Wichita State was relegated to

the NIT, where it has proven that it certainly belongs among the

top 68 teams in the country.

The Shockers romped over Nebraska in the opening round, then

went to Virginia Tech – another team left on the NCAA tournament

bubble – and won again. They returned home to beat College of

Charleston to earn a trip to Madison Square Garden.

”They were outstanding tonight and they were by far the best

team on the floor tonight, and they handled us quite well,”

Washington State coach Ken Bone said. ”They had a great

game.”

Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto scored nine points each to lead

Washington State (22-13), which shot 29.4 percent (15 of 41) and

went 0 for 10 from beyond the 3-point line. Leading scorer Klay

Thompson matched a season low with six points, 16 below his season

average.

Thompson was 1 for 10 from the field and 0 for 5 from beyond the

arc.

”I just didn’t play that good,” Thompson said. ”My defense

was terrible, picking up three early fouls in the first half, and

just not getting into my rhythm after that.”

Washington State already was in trouble 10 minutes into the

game, when the Cougars had made just two field goals and trailed

14-4. Thompson was headed to the bench with his third foul and the

Shockers were pulling down just about ever rebound on both ends of

the court.

Stutz was doing most of the damage inside, going 7 of 9 in the

first half for 18 points, four shy of his season high, set against

Tulsa in December. He also had five rebounds, half of the total of

the entire Washington State team, and even handed out a couple

assists.

Late in the half, Stutz scored seven straight points for the

Shockers, handed out an assist, then scored another basket before

the buzzer to give them a 36-19 halftime lead.

”It all just came together for me tonight,” Stutz said. ”They

pushed me off the block a couple times, but for the most part,

that’s the way our offense works, off deep post touches.”

The way their defense works is by getting into passing lanes,

shutting down the perimeter and clogging up the lanes – and it

worked to perfection Tuesday night.

The Cougars were outrebounded 52-25, shot 6 of 24 from the field

in the second half and barely eclipsed their season low of 43

points, set in a loss to Oregon in February.

”We just felt like coming out with great intensity, to play on

defense would get us the lead, then we started to make shots and

pushed the lead up,” said Blair, who finished with 10 points and

nine rebounds for Wichita State.

”This definitely is a tribute to our defense and how well we’re

playing.”