LOS ANGELES – Wichita State went from sweet to elite, beating La Salle 72-58 on Thursday night to reach the final eight of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament for the first time in 32 years.
Malcolm Armstead scored 18 points, Carl Hall added 16 points and freshman Ron Baker 13 for the ninth-seeded Shockers, who proved their upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the third round was no fluke. They never trailed in this matchup of midmajor schools whose past NCAA tourney success was long buried in the history books.
The Shockers advanced to Saturday’s West Regional final against No. 2 seed Ohio State, a 73-70 winner over Arizona in the first semifinal at Staples Center.
Wichita State (29-8) tied the school’s 2010-11 team for most victories. That group won the NIT title. These Shockers have designs on next matching what the 1965 team did – reaching the Final Four.
La Salle (24-10) briefly fought back in the second half – getting within 11 points – but the Shockers made sure the history of No. 13 seeds never making the final eight remained intact.
The Shockers beat Kansas by two points to get to the final eight in 1981. They didn’t need to take down a giant this time, just a 6,500-student school from Philadelphia that scrapped its way 2,754 miles from an at-large berth in Dayton, Ohio, to Los Angeles.
Jerrell Wright and Tyrone Garland led the Explorers with 16 points each. Ramon Galloway, who averages a team-leading 17.4 points, was held to 11 for a program that won the 1954 NCAA championship.