Preview: Wichita State vs. La Salle
Either Wichita State or La Salle will be playing for a spot in the Final Four. The ninth-seeded Shockers and 13th-seeded Explorers are unlikely opponents in Thursday's Sweet 16 contest in Los Angeles and the winner advances to Saturday's West Regional final. Wichita State shocked top-seeded Gonzaga in the round of 32, while La Salle won three days in five games and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 76-74 victory over Mississippi.
Explorers coach John Giannini refuses to buy into the notion that the Explorers are a "Cinderella" after their unlikely string of victories that began with wins over Boise State and Kansas State. "What people label us, we really try not to acknowledge it," Giannini said. Wichita State routed Pittsburgh before posting the 76-70 victory over the Bulldogs, and the Shockers are very much aware that few people expected them to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. "You hear stuff and people come up to you saying, 'What do you think about 70 percent of America has you losing the first game?'" junior forward Cleanthony Early said. "You have to avoid everyone's opinion and go out there and play hard."
TV: 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (28-8): Freshman guard Ron Baker joined Early in having a big game in the slaying of Gonzaga. Both players scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers but Baker's effort stood out for two reasons - it fell two points shy of his career-best output and it was only his fifth game since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for 21 games. "Those 21 games were a long 21 games, I'll just say that," said Baker, who is averaging 8.3 points in 15 games. Early averages a team-best 13.9 points, senior forward Carl Hall averages 12.6 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds and senior guard Malcolm Armstead contributes 10.6 points and a team-best four assists.
ABOUT LA SALLE (24-9): Fatigue hasn't yet been an issue for the Explorers despite the fact the team had to travel to Kansas City after winning their first outing in Dayton, Ohio. "At this point, you're too young to be getting tired," junior guard Tyreek Duren said. "You don't really have time to get tired at this point. You wake up and win games." Duren had 19 points against Ole Miss and ranks second on the squad in scoring at 14.5 points. Senior guard Ramon Galloway scored 24 points against the Rebels and averages a team-best 17.4 points. Junior guard Tyrone Garland averages 12.8 points and scored 17 against Ole Miss, including the game-winning basket on a driving shot with two seconds left.
1. Wichita State last advanced to a regional final in 1981. La Salle played in back-to-back title games in 1954-55 and won the 1954 championship game.
2. Five Explorers have 30 or more steals, led by Galloway (63) and Duren (56).
3. The Shockers made 14 3-pointers in the upset of Gonzaga, tying for second-most in school history.
PREDICTION: Wichita State 73, La Salle 71