SALT LAKE CITY — Wichita State does not have a football program, but the Shockers basketball team is doing what it can to fill the void.
The rough-and-tumble Shockers (27-8) provide the next challenge for top-ranked Gonzaga (32-2) at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“We focus on playing angry and being physical with whoever we play,” Wichita State guard Ron Baker said.
Tip-off for today’s third-round contest at EnergySolutions Arena is set for 5:40 p.m. on TNT. The winner advances to the Sweet 16 next week in Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be a hard-fought game,” Bulldogs forward Kelly Olynyk said. “Physical, both ends of the floor, and rough under the glass.”
Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed in the
West Region, was sternly tested Thursday in a physical game with 16th seed Southern (La.). The Bulldogs pulled away late to win, 64-58.
“We don’t shy away from that (physical play),” Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos said. “Our team is tough. We don’t back down from that at all.”
The Bulldogs outrebounded the smallish Jaguars, 40-27. Matching that performance could be difficult tonight because the ninth-seeded Shockers are bigger and deeper than Southern and have been outrebounded only thee times all season (with two ties).
“They’re on the glass non-stop,” said Olynyk, whose team has been outrebounded eight times.
“We want to go to the glass, not just on the defensive end but on the offensive end,” Baker said. “We want to be physical with you up and down the court.”
The Bulldogs hold the edge over Wichita State in most statistics, but the Shockers ranked seventh in the nation in average rebound margin through Thursday at 8.3. Gonzaga was 11th at 7.5.
“The first thing that comes to mind when you watch them play is how tough they are,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re just a tough-minded group, and they’re very confident.”
Like Gonzaga, Wichita State plays in a so-called mid-major conference. The unranked Shockers finished second to 22nd-ranked Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference in league play and the conference tournament. The Bulldogs swept the regular-season and tournament championship in the West Coast Conference.
Three Shockers average double figures in scoring. Athletic forward Cleanthony Early, an All-MVC first-team selection, comes off the bench and leads the team with 13.8 points a game.
Crafty post player Carl Hall (12.7 ppg), a MVC second-teamer, is tops in rebounding at 7.1. Quick point guard Malcolm Armstead (10.7 ppg), an all-league honorable mention pick, is first in assists with 4.0.
Early and Hall are 6-foot-8. Starting center Ehimen Orukpe (2.8 ppg), who leads the team with 54 blocked shots, is a 7-footer like Olynyk.
The Shockers survived an ugly first half in their tournament debut Thursday to down 20th-ranked Pittsburgh, 68-55.
Gonzaga’s win over Southern was surprisingly close, but Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall echoed the Bulldogs in praising Southern for a strong performance.
“I didn’t see Gonzaga playing that poorly, I saw Southern playing really, really well and maybe over their head,” Marshall said.
He added, “Gonzaga will bounce back. They had their scare. They’ll be fine.”
ESPN’s Dick Vitale predicts Wichita State will end Gonzaga’s 15-game winning streak. … Armstead, who led the Shockers with 22 points Thursday, is a senior transfer from Oregon. The Shockers had no scholarships available last year when he sat out the mandatory redshirt season for transfers, so he worked part-time and obtained loans to pay for school. … Wichita State, ranked 15th in late January, came in 35th in this week’s voting for the Associated Press Top 25. They’ve split their last six games. … The Shockers are 9-10 in 10 NCAA tournaments. The Bulldogs have an 18-15 record in 16 NCAA tournaments. … The Shockers won the 2011 NIT championship after clobbering Washington State, 75-44, in the semifinals.