LAHAINA, Hawaii — Wichita State’s players looked stunned against California’s defensive pressure, throwing errant passes easily picked off, casting up rushed shots as their deficit climbed.
The Final Four? The Shockers didn’t look like they could get out of the first round in Maui.
With one necessary, tactical switch, Wichita State looked more like one of the nation’s best teams over the final 15 minutes, leaving the Bears wondering what happened.
Forced into a full-court press to lengthen the game, No. 6 Wichita State hit the Bears with a barrage of traps and layups to turn an 18-point deficit in a wild, 92-82 victory on Monday at the Maui Invitational.
“We kind of looked like the Bad News Bears for the most part,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “But things that made this program pretty good over the years has been our grit and determination, and we certainly showed that in the second half.”
Cal (2-2) used its pressure to harass the Shockers into mistakes and missed shots, building the lead 18 within 4 ½ minutes of the second half.
The Shockers (3-0) turned the game around by turning on their own pressure cooker, revving up the crowd by speeding up the young Bears with their full-court press. Cal handled it poorly, leading to a string of turnovers and transition baskets that allowed Wichita State to pull even with 5 minutes left.
Wichita State snatched the lead with a late 8-0 run and pulled away from there.
Shaquille Morris scored 25 points and Landry Shamet added 23 to lead the Shockers into Tuesday’s semifinals against Marquette.
“We take pride on defense and in the first half tonight that wasn’t us. We didn’t recognize ourselves,” Morris said. “But we rallied up at halftime and had to come back and do what we do, play sharper basketball.”
Don Coleman carried the Bears with 26 first-half points and finished with 35 for his third game of at least 30 points this season. Cal had 19 turnovers that led to 29 points for Wichita State and was short-handed in the frontcourt with Kingsley Okorah and Marcus Lee contributing little before fouling out.
“They more or less kind of had us on our heels,” Cal coach Wyking Jones said.
Touted as a potential Final Four team, the Shockers started the season short-handed with forward Markis McDuffie out with a foot stress fracture.
The Shockers had no trouble against UMKC and College of Charleston, but the Bears are bigger and badder, even if they are young and have a new coach.
Cal went right at the McDuffie-less Shockers early, racing to an 11-point lead behind Coleman. The Bears continued to attack the Shockers in the second half, going up 58-40 on a 3-pointer by Justice Sueing.
After all the struggling and sideline stalking by Marshall, the Shockers sent a shockwave into the Bears with pressure they couldn’t handle.
Through a string of turnovers, Wichita State went on a 14-3 run that cut Cal’s lead to seven and kept hounding and kept scoring as the fans inside tiny Lahaina Civic Center roared. The Shockers tied it at 76-all on Samajae Haynes-Jones’ layup with just over 5 minutes left. The late 8-0 run put them up 86-80 — and on to the semifinals.
“They are a younger team than we are and we try to just utilize that to the best of our ability there down the stretch,” Shamat said.
Wichita State came out flat, but looked like one of the nation’s best teams once it turned up the pressure on the Bears.
Cal showed how good it can be in the first 24 minutes, but also how vulnerable its young players can be to pressure.
CAL FOUL TROUBLE
The frontcourt foul trouble had a heavy toll on Cal. The Bears were outscored 46-26 in the paint, outrebounded by 11 and gave up 28 second-chance points on 24 Wichita State’s offensive rebounds.
The foul trouble certainly helped in the comeback, but so did Wichita State’s depth. The Shockers had a 30-7 advantage in bench points and Cal’s guards had their hands on their knees numerous times late in the game.
Wichita State moves on to face Marquette in Tuesday’s semifinals.
Cal will play VCU in the loser’s bracket on Tuesday.