Seniors make winning plays throughout win over Wichita State

Freshman forward Derek willis blocks Wichita State guard Landry Shamet during the game against the Wichita State Shockers in the second round game of the 2017 NCAA Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Sunday, March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, In. Kentucky defeated Wichita State 65-62 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

Anthony Crawford

INDIANAPOLIS — Against the tough, physical play from Wichita State, it was UK’s freshmen who sealed the game.

Bam Adebayo, Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox combined for 41 of UK’s 65 points and the team’s final 17 points of the game in UK’s thrilling 65-62 win over Wichita State in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Things started to finally click for the young trio, but UK would not have been in a position for them to make those plays had it not been for the steady play from the team’s seniors. 

The same Dominique Hawkins that was on display in Nashville and ended the SEC Tournament as a member of the all-tournament team showed up for UK against the Shockers and was responsible for keeping the team afloat when the freshmen weren’t in the game.

Whether it be by desire or because there weren’t many stoppages in the action during the first half, UK played an extended stretch with none of it’s freshman on the floor.

During that stretch from 11:27 to 5:55, UK knocked down its first three shots from deep, two courtesy of Hawkins and Mychal Mulder. Hawkins ended up scoring once more during that stretch and was tied for the lead in scoring on the team with Monk at seven points going into the half.

“I just felt like I needed to be aggressive,” Hawkins said. “I seen that nobody was really scoring. So I just took the chances, driving in the lane and try to get some easy shots.”

Then in the second half, it was Derek Willis’ turn to make his impact on the game.

After going scoreless in the first half, Willis found his shot in the second. He ended up 3-for-4 from the field in the second half and knocked down two big threes. The first three cut into a Wichita State run and sparked a 7-0 run for UK that gave them the lead. The second trey gave UK a four-poind lead and was the last basket before the freshmen took over. 

Willis’ recent defensive mentality held up in the game against the Shockers. He only rejected one shot — the freshmen kind of took over in that category — but he did come up with three steals for UK and pulled down eight rebounds.

Watching the game, it would have seemed like the freshmen made all the winning plays. But throughout the game, Willis and Hawkins provided them with a rock to lean on as they came up with key plays down the stretch. 

“We’ve seen many games like this before,” Hawkins said. “And all we do is tell our guys to keep fighting, we’ll find a way to win. And that’s what we did today.”