No. 11 Wichita State has shot at AAC title (Feb 28, 2018)

February 28, 2018

No. 11 Wichita State heads into the final week of the regular season in the hunt for the American Athletic Conference title. The Shockers trail first-place Cincinnati by one game with two games to play.

Wichita State hosts the 10th-ranked Bearcats on Sunday. But, in order to make that game mean anything, the Shockers first must handle their business when they visit up-and-down Central Florida on Wednesday.

The Knights (17-11, 8-8 in the AAC) have dropped two straight, after putting together a three-game winning streak early in February. Wichita State (23-5, 13-3 AAC) has won six in a row.

In the previous meeting this season, Shockers senior forward Shaquille Morris dominated in the paint in Wichita State's 81-62 win over UCF. Morris hit eight of 10 shots and finished with a game-high 19 points.

Morris has improved throughout his career at Wichita State and has emerged as a go-to force on both ends of the court for the Shockers this season. He's averaging 14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocked shots per game.

"It's very fulfilling," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of Morris. "It's very exciting just watching him play. He's a fun guy to watch play, and when he is wrapped up in it mentally, as he is and has been, it's fun to watch. (It's) exciting to see a real positive transformation, and (after five years) this is the pay-off.

"Morris just needed to learn and work to be an everyday guy. And, lately, not only have we been counting on him, we've been riding him. His shoulders are big enough -- figuratively and literally -- for us to ride at this time of year. It's great to see him and some other guys really playing some of their best basketball in late February."

Junior guard B.J. Taylor leads Central Florida. Taylor missed 16 games after sustaining a foot injury in the season opener against Mercer. He returned in mid-January and has scored 20 or more points in five games.

Taylor was held to nine points on one-of-seven shooting in a 75-56 loss at Temple on Sunday. He had 12 points in the Knights' defeat at Wichita State on Jan. 25.

The Shockers are in their first season in the American Athletic Conference. They had been a part of the Missouri Valley Conference since 1945, but elected to join the AAC last spring.

Now, they're two wins away from winning the conference crown in their debut season.

"I knew we would have to be really good," Marshall said. "I expected us to lose a couple games, which is what we've done. I didn't know which ones, I didn't predict any of that. In the end, we're in this last week and we're fighting for a regular-season championship. If we win the two games, that's what we get ... we get a No. 1 seed (in the conference tournament) in our first year.

"It's exciting, it's fun, it's challenging as heck. All players, all coaches right now are tired, but the excitement, the exhilaration of this time of year trumps all of that."

The American Conference tournament tips off on March 8 in Orlando, Fla.

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