St. Louis, MO (SportsNetwork.com) - Wichita State is no longer unbeaten.
Andrew Harrison converted 3-of-4 foul shots down the stretch and Fred VanVleet's contested 3-pointer fell short just prior to the buzzer, allowing Kentucky to reach the Sweet 16 by knocking off the Shockers, 78-76, in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Harrison ended up with 20 points for the Wildcats (26-10), who advance to take on Louisville next Friday in Indianapolis in the Midwest Region semifinals. Aaron Harrison added 19 points, with James Young and Julius Randle contributing 13 apiece for the victors.
Cleanthony Early totaled a game-high 31 points for the Shockers (35-1), who set an NCAA record for most wins in one season without suffering a loss, but ultimately failed in their bid to reach the Final Four for the second straight year.
"The joy that they brought us all year long will live with me forever," said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall.
"I thought it was a great game the whole time it was going on. It was back and forth ... I told (Kentucky) coach (John) Calipari that, I told their players that. I told our team that. Certainly there are things I wish I could have done to help these guys one more play, one more basket, a different defense, a different call. But their run ended up being two points better than ours at the end of 40 minutes."
Ron Baker converted 4-of-6 shots from long range en route to 20 points, but VanVleet was held to four points on 1-of-6 shooting, including 0-for-4 from beyond the arc.
A long two by Early put WSU up 71-70 with 2:16 remaining, but Young countered with a triple from the top of the key and Kentucky took a 73-71 edge on the next possession. A trey from Tekele Cotton then rolled in and out, and Andrew Harrison made two at the line with 42.6 showing for a four-point Wildcats spread.
Baker hit a banked three from the left side to bring the Shockers within 75-74, before Randle drained both of his free throws to push his club's edge back to three.
Baker was called upon again from the left wing, but his next long-range attempt fell short. Early, however, was fouled on the offensive board and made two at the line with 9.8 to play for a 77-76 score.
Andrew Harrison earned his second chance at the charity stripe, making the first and missing the second. Early picked up the ball, flew up court and Wichita State called timeout with 3.2 seconds to go.
VanVleet let fly from 25 feet away, but the shot was just off the mark, hitting the rim and backboard.
"Heck of a game," said Calipari. "Really proud of our guys hanging in there and fighting. They never gave up. Wichita State never gave up and had their last chance to win the game."
Andrew Harrison's triple gave the Wildcats some separation prior to the midway point of the opening 20 minutes at 19-15, but the edge was short lived. Kentucky was forced to call a timeout after a runner from Early made it 30-23.
Cotton began the eventual 17-4 surge with the first five, while VanVleet contributed all four of his points -- including two closing free throws -- for a 32-23 spread with 4:37 left in the half. Wichita State went to intermission ahead 37-31 after a triple by Jarrod Polson reduced Kentucky's gap.
Early's three to kick off the second half was countered by 10 in a row from Kentucky, which took a 41-40 lead after Alex Poythress converted a layup.
Baker followed with six in a row on a trey and a three-point play and WSU held a 46-43 lead, then the Wildcats struck back for seven straight and Willie Cauley-Stein's slam put them up 50-46.
Momentum shifted once more, as the Shockers embarked on a 12-5 run ending just after the midway point of the half to take a 58-55 advantage on the second of Early's back-to-back buckets.
Wichita State held Kentucky at arm's length until a roller from Young put the Wildcats up 70-69 with 2:49 to play.
These programs met for the first time on Sunday ... Early shot 12-of-17 from the field and made 4-of-6 shots from distance ... Randle led all players with 10 rebounds and dished out a team-high six assists ... Cotton finished with only five points, five assists and three rebounds in 31 minutes ... Wichita State committed only nine turnovers and forced Kentucky to cough up the ball 11 times.