The Shockers wore down the Explorers in the first half and cruised to a 72-53 victory.
LOS ANGELES — Wichita State’s 1964 and 1981 teams have company. Now the current Shockers are close to matching the 1965 team.
WSU advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1981 with Thursday night’s 72-58 win over La Salle at Staples Center.
The ninth-seeded Shockers (29-8) will play second-seeded Ohio State on Saturday in the West Regional final, with the winner headed to Atlanta for the Final Four — a destination the Shockers haven’t reached since 1965.
The 1964 and 1981 Shockers lost in regional finals, falling one game short of the Final Four.
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“Forty minutes away,” WSU guard Malcolm Armstead said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Armstead led WSU with 18 points, 13 in the second half. Carl Hall added 16, 14 in the first half. WSU out-rebounded La Salle 47-29, helping it to a 40-26 edge scoring in the lane.
“That was the game plan,” Armstead said. “Wear them down.”
La Salle’s four-guard offense failed to generate consistent scoring with WSU’s guards bottling them up. When they slipped through, Hall and others blocked and altered shots. The Shockers held the Explorers (24-10) to 35.7 percent shooting.
“WSU won the game in the first half,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They really overwhelmed us. It took us a half to adjust to the level they were playing at.”
Ramon Galloway, La Salle’s leading scorer, had 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting. Forward Jerrell Wright and guard Tyrone Garland both scored 16.
The Shockers won with Hall in the first half, overpowering the smaller Explorers on their way to 38-22 lead. They hit them with three-pointers early in the second half. When the Explorers briefly rallied midway through the second half, Armstead took over with nine straight points to take the life out of La Salle. His three-pointer gave WSU a 62-47 lead with 6:40 to play.
“Armstead was huge at that time,” Giannini said. “We were playing well enough at that time to have a chance, but Armstead wouldn’t allow it.”
A follow shot by Ron Baker and a layup by Tekele Cotton made it 66-48. Seconds later, Giannini called timeout and fans started leaving. Another Explorers turnover led to a layup by Early and the WSU fans started celebrating with a 20-point lead.
WSU was on its way to the Elite Eight with a blowout.
WSU forced a La Salle timeout just over a minute into the second half with three-pointers by Armstead and Baker. Those baskets stretched WSU’s lead to 44-22, its largest of the game.
The celebration unfolded in subdued fashion compared to Saturday’s scene in Salt Lake City after beating Gonzaga. WSU coach Gregg Marshall cuffed assistant coach Chris Jans around the head with a big smile. The players clapped and hugged, looking more focused on the next game than popping jerseys and dancing with the band.