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K-State Defense as Important as Offense

By Mark Janssen

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Jacob Pullen admits that any thoughts of him becoming a defensive ace would have been met with outright laughter four years ago when he arrived at K-State out of Maywood, Ill.

Hee-haws would have come from his prep coach at Proviso East High back in Chicago. Cackles would have been heard from his own family. Heck, even his new coach at K-State, Frank Martin, would have had a belly laugh on the thought of Pullen becoming a two-time member of the Big 12's All-Defensive Team.

As a freshman, Martin said, "Jacob didn't know what the word meant. He couldn't spell defense. Now he understands and cares for it."

Pullen says his defensive woes truly hit home back on March 22, 2008, when the Wildcats lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament 72-55.

"I lost that game for us," he reflected. "I couldn't guard anyone."

Today, the Wildcats' 6-foot-0 senior guard takes on one and all as a two-time member of the Big 12 Conference's All-Defensive team. And, his name is paired only with a lad named Kevin Durant when it comes to a 20-point scorer in the Big 12, AND, being considered one of the top five defenders in the league.

"That's why I'm happy he plays for me," said Martin. "I'm happy he's on my team."

Associate head coach Dalonte Hill adds, "Jacob brings a smile to your face when you consider what he was like as a pup in his freshman year to what he's become on defense and as a leader in the locker room. As a freshman, he didn't know that defense existed."

Flashing back four years, Martin says he wasn't all that surprised that Pullen had no clue when it came to defensive play.

After all, Pullen was "... like the other best kids on a high school team that were never asked to defend. On that side of the ball, you were only asked to get out of the way (to avoid foul trouble)."

Pullen admitted to being a "horrible defender" who found "the easiest way out" on that end of the floor. But now, he says, "I take tremendous pride in how I play defense. I take more pride being on the Defensive Team than the First-Team All-Big 12."

Pullen's defensive play on the perimeter has keyed a Wildcat team defense that has allowed just 67 points per game to rank fourth during the 16-game league season. In K-State's current six-game win streak, the Wildcats have:
Held teams to 63.7 points on 39 percent shooting and 30 percent from 3-point range.
Teams have averaged just 10.8 assists to 13.8 turnovers with K-State scoring 17.5 points per game off those mistakes.
Held four of the top five scoring offenses to their season-lows, which included KU to 68 points, or 16 under its season average; Missouri to 70 points, or 13 under its season norm; and, Iowa State to 55 points, or 20 below its norm.
Held UT's Jordan Hamilton to 5-of-18 shooting; NU's Lance Jeter to 3-of-10 shooting; the Morris twins of KU to a combined 16 points; and, CU's Alec Burks to 3-of-13 shooting.

Of the team's recent play, Martin admits it's the best defense the team has played this year.

"Early in the year we had great moments defensively, but we couldn't sustain it mentally. We weren't disciplined enough," said Martin. "When the tough moments came, we gave in. That's not happening any more. We're sustaining effort, focus and discipline. When tough moments come, we don't give in. We continue to play."

Starting outside, Hill says, "Jake is putting so much pressure on the ball, it makes it easier for the young wings to extend and deny, and take away post-ups. We're doing a better job of getting to the ball. Early in the year we had guys just worried about their man, and their man only. Now we're helping and defending as a team."

And if the ball gets by the perimeter line of defense, K-State's bigs are blocking shots. The 148 swats this year rank second only to last year's total of 187.

"We're not always pretty ... we're not a bunch of McDonalds All-Americans, but we're hard-hat workers," said Hill.

ONE MORE CHANCE: K-State will play Colorado today at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship. The Buffaloes advanced on Wednesday with a 77-75 victory over Iowa State.

CU swept K-State during regular-season play, 58-56 in Boulder, and 74-66 in Manhattan.

"In the first game, we didn't guard anybody," said Martin. "In the second game, we couldn't make shots, and I think we missed 14 free throws."

NO. 19: K-State is back in the Associated Press ranking at No. 19 and in the Coaches Poll at No. 23.

To that, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts says, "We may be 19th, but we're not settling for that. We've been playing under the radar, but we put ourselves under the radar."

The Wildcats have had a wild ride in the polls this season starting at No. 3, falling to No. 11 by late-December, to No. 21 by Jan. 10, and slipping out of the polls by the end of January. Now in March, the Wildcats are back in at No. 19. Last year K-State entered the Big 12 Championships at No. 9.

MORE NUMBERS: K-State is 6-4 all-time in games played in the Sprint Center ... K-State is 6-7 all-time in games played as the No. 4 seed in the Big 12 Championship ... this is the fifth straight year K-State has received a first-round bye, which is also a claim that can only be made by Kansas.


We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen at mjanssen7@cox.net, or Kansas State Director of Athletic Communications/SID Kenny Lannou at klannou@kstatesports.com. For those who would like to share Sports Extra with a friend or family member, or change your current email address, click here.