The goal of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years continues to motivate Wichita State this weekend in St. Louis.
Hoping to further close in on that feat, the top-seeded and No. 15 Shockers try for a 10th consecutive victory Saturday when they face Illinois State in the semifinals of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
A year ago, Wichita State had 23 regular-season wins and earned the second seed in the MVC tournament but was left out of the NCAA field after losing 61-54 to Indiana State in the semis. Coming off their first regular-season conference championship since 2006, the Shockers (27-4) have their sights set on the school's first MVC tournament title since 1987 and an automatic NCAA bid.
Wichita State, which likely appears to be part of the NCAA field regardless of what happens in St. Louis, lost 63-55 to upstart George Mason in the regional semifinals during its last NCAA appearance in 2006.
"We're not thinking about the NCAA tournament right now," guard Joe Ragland said. "We're just thinking about the Missouri Valley tournament and trying to do as well as we can in this. It's kind of the same atmosphere, one game do or die. We just want to be successful in this and allow this to propel us in that."
Ragland and backcourt mate Toure' Murry each scored 14 points as Wichita State went 31 of 62 from the field en route to a 72-48 rout of Indiana State on Friday. The Shockers held the Sycamores to 26.9 percent shooting while outrebounding them 43-29.
Wichita State has made 51.8 percent of its shots during a nine-game winning streak, where it's won each of the last seven by no fewer than 13 points.
"Every game we step out there we're trying to make a statement just for ourselves," Murry said. "The whole Wichita team. We play for one another. We try to play as hard as we can."
Murry and his teammates hope to put forth the same effort when they try for a seventh consecutive victory over fourth-seeded Illinois State (19-12), which beat Northern Iowa 54-42 on Friday.
Wichita State won 65-62 at home over Illinois State on Jan. 10, then rolled to a 68-55 road victory Feb. 22. Ragland totaled 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting - 5 of 10 from 3-point range - in those meetings.
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge," said Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, whose team shot a combined 38.7 percent against the Shockers this season.
Though the Redbirds' last victory over Wichita State came 72-57 on Dec. 29, 2009, the underdogs feel relaxed heading into this contest.
"They've got a lot of pressure on them," Illinois State guard Bryant Allen said. "We just want to go out and do whatever it takes to win this game."
Redbirds forward Jackie Carmichael, who had 16 points with 15 rebounds Friday, has averaged 15.7 and 13.0 in the last seven contests. However, he's been limited to 7.9 points and 6.0 rebounds in seven career games versus Wichita State.
Murry scored 17 while Carmichael was held to eight when the Shockers reached the MVC tournament finals with a 65-61 victory over the Redbirds in 2010.