Wichita State can score and defend

Coach Gregg Marshall's Shockers are known for their ability to clamp down defensively.
Coach Gregg Marshall's Shockers are known for their ability to clamp down defensively. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: March 29, 2013

LOS ANGELES - Throughout the NCAA tournament, La Salle coach John Giannini has stressed that the Explorers are no Cinderella team, despite their 13th seed.

La Salle's next opponent, standing in the way of an Elite Eight appearance, doesn't fall into that category, either.

La Salle (24-9) and ninth seed Wichita State (28-8) aren't the most well-known teams left in the Sweet 16. But like La Salle, Wichita State has followed up a strong regular season with some eye-popping performances in the NCAA tournament.

First there was a convincing 73-55 win over eighth-seeded Pittsburgh. Then the stunner, at least in the minds of many outside the Shockers program, was Saturday's 76-70 victory over top-seeded Gonzaga.

The winner of Thursday's game at the Staples Center will face the Ohio State-Arizona winner in Saturday's West Regional final.

Coach Gregg Marshall's Shockers are known for their grit and ability to clamp down defensively. They are eighth in the nation in rebound differential at 7.9 per game. Wichita State allows 60.8 points per game.

"Coaches know that rebounding and defense win games and we are playing one of the best rebounding and defensive teams in America," La Salle coach John Giannini said after Wednesday's practice at the Staples Center.

The Explorers received a boost Wednesday when center Steve Zack, out since March 2 with a sprained left foot, returned to practice.

With Zack in there, even for a few minutes, it could help against a strong rebounding team.

The real shocker this postseason was that Wichita State shot 14 for 28 from beyond the arc against Gonzaga, with six players hitting at least one three.

How surprising was it?

The game before, the Shockers made 2 of 20 three-pointers against Pitt. Before that, in a 68-65 Missouri Valley Conference championship loss to Creighton, the Shockers were 7 for 21.

So which is the real Wichita State team?

It is a balanced one that always plays defense, despite its hot and cold shooting. Seven players have led the Shockers in scoring at least once this year.

Cleanthony Early, a 6-foot-8 junior, averages a team-high 13.9 points. Early and 6-3 freshman Ron Baker each had 16 points against Gonzaga.

Forward Carl Hall, who has struggled in the NCAA tournament, is averaging 12.6 points and 6.9 rebounds.

"Carl is the heartbeat of our team," Marshall said.

Senior guard Malcolm Armstead, a transfer from Oregon, averages 10.6 points but is even more dangerous on defense. He has a team-high 69 steals.

Ehimen Orukpe, a 7-0 center, and Tekele Cotton, a 6-2 sophomore, both provide more defense than offense.

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com. Follow @sjnard on Twitter.

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