Wichita State won't remember its first win in the American Athletic Conference as an aesthetically pleasing one, but in many ways it was a return to its roots.
The Shockers relied on their hallmarks — defense and rebounding — to prevail, 72-62, against Connecticut on Saturday at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. No. 8 WSU improved to 11-2 and registered a victory in its first game in its new conference.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Landry Shamet and Conner Frankamp in the final four minutes proved to be the dagger, but WSU won because it limited UConn (7-6) to 38.7 percent shooting, including just three 3-pointers, and outrebounded the Huskies, 47-34.
Rashard Kelly embodied the performance for the Shockers, as the senior finished with his second double-double of the season with 11 points and a team-high 12 rebounds. His standout stretch came late in the first half when he swatted a shot at one end, then sprinted down the court for a tip-in on offense. The next possession, Kelly out-hustled two UConn defenders for an offensive rebound put-back for a three-point play.
Kelly's energy pursuing rebounds rubbed off on WSU the second half, as it grabbed 11 offensive rebounds (52 percent of its own misses) and outrebounded Connecticut 27-12 in the second half after the Huskies held a slight advantage in the first half.
Wichita State led for all but 13 seconds in the second half _ Connecticut briefly took a 42-41 lead and tied the score at 49 with 9:25 remaining. After a Shaquille Morris tip-in gave WSU the lead, the Shockers's lead would remain within two possessions for the next five minutes.
The winning surge from WSU didn't occur until Shamet took a screen from Morris in transition and pulled up for a 3-pointer for a 61-53 lead. UConn answered with a Jalen Adams (18 points) jumper, but Frankamp answered back with a three-pointer at the other end. Morris followed with a jump hook for WSU's largest lead of the game, 66-55, with 2:23 remaining.
WSU struggled to put the game away due to 4 of 12 shooting from the foul line. Shamet missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 foul shot, which allowed Connecticut to trim the lead to 68-62 with 38 seconds remaining. But on the following possession, WSU broke the full-court press and Markis McDuffie finished with a slam dunk.
Shamet finished with 16 points, five rebounds, and six assists, while Frankamp and Austin Reaves each scored 11 points. Morris finished with nine points and five rebounds, while WSU made 12 3-pointers and shot 48 percent from beyond the arc. Adams and Terry Larrier each led UConn with 18 points, while Christian Vital added 17.