Evansville coach Marty Simmons did what Rick Pitino is trying to do Saturday -- beat Wichita State (twice).
ATLANTA (WDRB) – Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh could not do it. Mark Few and Gonzaga could not do it. Thad Matta and Ohio State could not do it.
Is there anybody out there who was capable of doing what the University of Louisville will try to do Saturday evening in the NCAA Final Four – beat Wichita State?
Marty Simmons and Evansville did it.
Check the video.
The Evansville Purple Aces beat the Shockers two times – including Senior Day at Koch Arena.
"I can't really explain it," said Simmons, who started his playing career at Indiana in the early 80s and then finished at Evansville. "We just made shots. Don't think they're not a really good team because they are. They've shown that the last two weeks."
Yes, the Shockers have – popping Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, LaSalle and then Ohio State by a combined 42 points on their way to earning a shot at Rick Pitino's surging Big East champions Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
Simmons wants it known that the first time the teams played – a game the Purple Aces won, 71-67 in Evansville on Jan. 13 – Wichita State was without two critical players, including forward Carl Hall, the Shockers' best rebounder.
"We caught them at a good time," Simmons said. "They weren't at full strength and they were still coming together. You have to remember that Gregg (Marshall, the Shockers' head coach) lost almost his entire team. He's done a tremendous job developing a new ball club. That's a complete basketball team that makes it tough for you."
The Purple Aces won because they made 20 free throws and Wichita State threw the ball away 22 times. Wichita State was whistled for 10 more fouls (24-14) than Evansville.
Neither Hall nor freshman Ron Baker played for Wichita – and those two contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots in the West Regional final against Ohio State Saturday in Los Angeles.
"Hall is a terrific player," Simmons said. "He can stand in there and rebound with anybody. He's really gets after it inside."
Evansville's second win over the Shockers was, well, more shocking -- Senior Day. Hall played. Baker did not.
But Wichita did not have the best player on the court. Evansville did. There is a reason Colt Ryan left Evansville as the school's all-time leading scorer. Against a team as formidable as Wichita State, Ryan scored 29 points, leading the Purple Aces to a 59-56 victory.
Evansville led by 10 points at halftime – and then withstood a Wichita rally. Neither team scored over the final 3:28.
"Colt Ryan just wasn't going to let us lose that game," Simmons said. "They pressured us and guarded us really hard. Colt's just such a great shooter that he made enough shots to carry us."
Simmons loves the Wichita State team. Loves the way they compete. Loves the absolute fearlessness of guard Malcolm Armstead. Loves the way Hall goes to the glass. Loves the way Marshall gets his team to defend.
He is not predicting a Wichita State upset. But Simmons also does not expect the Shockers to shrink on the national stage.
"I haven't seen any evidence they'll back down from a challenge, even against a team as great as Louisville," Simmons said. "That's a real good team."