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Wildcats Ready to Rebound from Lapse in KC

By Mark Janssen
    
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Jacob Pullen is a self-admitted basketball junkie, so immediately after hearing the announcement that the Wildcats were going to play Utah State in the NCAA Tournament, he said, "I've seen them in some of those late-night games from the west coast. They play a match-up zone, can rebound it and shoot it from all five spots."

Of perhaps his No. 5-seeded Wildcat team looking past the No. 12 Aggies, Pullen said, "I hope not. I wouldn't think so. Those teams find ways to win. Those teams are good, but they don't get the exposure because they play so late. We better be ready and play with a sense of urgency because the next loss is your last game."

Kansas State, No. 21 in the polls with a 22-10 record, will play No. 19 Utah State (30-3) in an 8:57 p.m. CST tipoff from the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson.

Utah State, winners of 87 games in the last three years, will be making its third consecutive NCAA appearance. The Aggies lost to Texas A&M last year in the first round, and dropped a one-point game to Marquette in 2009.

Of this year's seeding, Utah State coach Stew Morrill said, "A 12th seed is a little bit of a surprise. We were hoping for an 8- or 9-seed ... 10 at the worst. Obviously, it will be challenging. Playing BCS teams with big, athletic guys presents a lot of challenges."

NCAA participants in eight of the last 12 years, Utah State's last victory came in 2001 when it upset Ohio State in a 12-seed over 5-seed contest. Overall the Aggies are 6-21 in 19 appearances in The Big Dance.

K-State can nearly match that experience having gone to the NCAA in three of the last four years, and have been postseason participants - NIT in 2007 and 2009, and NCAA in 2008, 2010 and 2011 - in each of the last five seasons.

"This has a different set of emotions to it," said K-State coach Frank Martin. "Both teams understand that you don't get to play another game unless you win the one you're playing today. Teams are more focused in on the moment. You play each possession with more determination, which makes the game more difficult.

"I hope our guys who have been through it remember what it felt like after the Wisconsin game (a 72-55 second round loss) a couple years ago, and to Butler (a 63-56 Elite Eight loss) last year," said Martin.

"I think that we will be pretty dialed in when we get on the floor. Jake (Pullen) and I will definitely keep us focused because we know the seriousness of the NCAA Tournament and we know that we have to win to survive," said senior Curtis Kelly, who played in one NCAA event while at Connecticut and now two with K-State. "I want to survive and I know that Jake will want to survive, so we will be pretty dialed in. Frank (Martin) and the older guys will make sure of that."

Overall, Pullen said, "We went into Kansas City playing great ball, but had a bit of a lapse. We'll have a couple days to prepare for Utah State and figure out a way to win six games."

PULLEN FINALIST FOR WOODEN AWARD: K-State's Jacob Pullen has been named as one of 20 finalists for the John Wooden Award given to the nation's top player by the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Also on the ballot from the Big 12 are Marcus Morris from Kansas, Jordan Hamilton of Texas and Alec Burks of Colorado.

Pullen has been named third team All-American by Yahoo! Sports and fourth-team by FOXSports.com. Pullen is K-State's first two-time All-Big Eight/12 honoree since Norris Coleman was a two-time first-teamer in 1986 and 1987.

Just the school's second 2,000-point scorer, Pullen has led the team in 11 categories this season, including scoring (19.5), double-digit scoring games (27), 20-point games (15), free throws (155), assists (108), steals (48) and minutes played (32.5).

The winner of the John Wooden Award will be announced on April 8.

PLAYING THE BEST: K-State's final strength of schedule was No. 11 in the nation with nine games played against Top 50 teams: No. 1 Kansas (2 games), No. 4 Duke, No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Texas, No. 25 UNLV, No. 30 Texas A&M and No. 37 Missouri (2 games). The Wildcats were 3-6 in those games.

The Wildcats are now set to play No. 15 Utah State, and possibly No. 16 Wisconsin or No. 51 Belmont in the Southeast Regional.

FORMER WILDCAT COACHES: Three former Wildcat coaches have their teams in the NCAA Tournament as Bob Huggins has West Virginia (20-11) in as a No. 5 seed, Lon Kruger's UNLV Runnin' Rebels (24-8) are a No. 8 seed, and Mark Fox (assistant to Tom Asbury) has his Georgia team (21-11) in the Field of 68 as a No. 10 seed.

Other former Wildcats now coaching in the Division I ranks didn't have the same type of success.

Tim Jankovich went 12-19 at Illinois State; Mike Miller (assistant to Jim Wooldridge) was 9-20 at Eastern Illinois; Jim Wooldrige went 12-19 at Cal-Riverside; and Tom Asbury was 12-21 at Pepperdine.


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