ATLANTA — Marquette on steroids.
That was how Louisville coach Rick Pitino described the Wichita State defense on Thursday. He added, “I’ll say this without any exaggeration. They’re the best team we will have faced this year at the defensive end.
“If you grab an offensive rebound, they slap it away. They don’t let you go into the paint without four guys attacking you. They are the toughest team to score against.”
That is, really, why the Shockers have made it this far in the NCAA Tournament, why they’ll be facing Louisville on Saturday for a chance to get to the championship game. It’s their defense.
“We just have to go out there and make what [Pitino] says actually come true,” said forward Cleanthony Early, who compared Wichita State to David, with Louisville their Goliath.
As guard Ron Baker put it, “We are a physical team. We like going to the glass on both ends and rebounding. We hang our hat on rebounding and defense.”
Wichita State has won its four tournament games by an average of 10.5 points. “They’re not just winning, they’re pounding teams,” Pitino said.
That included Gonzaga, which the Shockers held to 35.6 percent from the field in their upset win.
Wichita State’s attacking defense is a fundamental part of coach Gregg Marshall’s style. He works on it constantly, day after day. That leads to the mentality that guard Tekele Cotton said was, “When we’re out there on the floor, we just don’t want to be scored on.”
Over the season, the Shockers have held opponents to 60.9 points per game and 39.3 percent shooting. And they’ve grabbed eight more rebounds per game than their opponents, averaging 38.4.
That’s what they’ll need to do to beat Louisville and Pitino’s press on Saturday. As Marshall said, “If we’re ‘Marquette on steroids’ defensively, that will give us a great chance.”
Amherst in spotlight
Amherst College is in the Division 3 national championship game for the third time in seven years. But this time isn’t like the others.
Since 1996, the semifinals and final have been held in Salem, Va. This year, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament, the final was moved to Atlanta, scheduled for Sunday at Philips Arena.
When they first heard, a couple of the players were studying in the library. “We kind of went nuts,” Jeffs guard Willy Workman said. “No one got any work done. We were just thinking about it, coming down to Atlanta and daydreaming about that, and ever since we’ve been on this mission.”
Amherst has won every game since a loss to Babson Dec. 6, a streak of 23.
“That Saturday [Dec. 8 vs. Brandeis], we looked like an NCAA championship team,” coach David Hixon said, of when he realized his team could get this far. “We played awesome. And that day — and I don’t want to smile too soon, and I think I smiled today for the first time — but that day I knew.”
The Lord Jeffs (29-2) will play Mary Hardin-Baylor (27-5), seeking their first national title since 2007.
More for Burke
One day after being named the Associated Press player of the year, Michigan point guard Trey Burke won the John R. Wooden and the Oscar Robertson player of the year awards . . . Asked what he knew about Wichita State before going to school there, forward Carl Hall said, “I knew nothing about Wichita State. I had to Google it, see how big the city was. When I first heard the word ‘Wichita’, I’m thinking a small country town, people walking around with cowboy boots on.”
Ware with Cardinals
Louisville guard Kevin Ware was scheduled to speak to the media on Friday afternoon, but it was determined that he was too worn out to do so. Ware, whose gruesome leg injury occurred last Sunday against Duke, is expected to be on the bench for Saturday’s game . . . Forward Deshaun Thomas will forego his final season of eligibility at Ohio State and enter the NBA draft. He averaged 19.8 points and 5.9 rebounds this season . . . North Carolina State freshman Rodney Purvis said he’s heading to UConn. Huskies coach Kevin Ollie had recruited Purvis out of high school while he was an assistant to former coach Jim Calhoun . . . Six Tulane basketball players are transferring, including 2011-12 Conference USA freshman of the year Ricky Tarrant . . . In Fairfax, Va., Kevin Foster had 24 points and Santa Clara defeated George Mason, 80-77, to win the CBI Finals in three games . . . James Ennis of Long Beach State scored 13 points and Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder hit four free throws in the closing seconds to give the East team an 87-81 victory over the West in the All-Star game in Atlanta.