Perception Becomes Reality with Wildcats
"This" is the team that the media positioned No. 3 in the nation back in November. "This" is the team the coaches predicted to win the Big 12 championship. And without question, "this" is the K-State team that is the best in the league at the end of the season, AND "this" is the team that no other team wants to play in next week's Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, AND "this" is the team that no other team wants to go dancing with in the following week's NCAA Tournament. In the last 15 days, K-State has defeated No. 1 Kansas, No. 7 Texas and No. 20 Missouri, plus won on the road at Nebraska, where at the time the Cornhuskers were 16-1 this season. In coach Frank Martin's words, "It's a case of young kids growing up and accepting responsibilities." Against Texas, it was Rodney McGruder with 22 points, five boards and two steals; and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts with eight points, eight boards and two blocked shots; and Shane Southwell with eight points, five boards, three blocked shots and two steals. Oh yes, seniors Curtis Kelly had 15 points, eight boards and five blocks, and Jacob Pullen netted 20, with 16 of those coming in the pivotal second half. Against Missouri, it was Martavious Irving with seven points and an assist; Nick Russell with seven points and three assists; and, Will Spradling with nine points and a steal. Against Kansas, it was a man named Pullen with 38 points, five assists, a blocked shot and a steal. "That's the beauty of having a good team," Pullen said of the trio of wins over ranked teams. He would add, "Our locker room is stronger. Every day we walk in that locker room it's just us fighting for each other. It's all about each other." Yes, K-State is back in its comfort zone of "us against the world." In those three games, "this" K-State team held KU to 68 points, or 16 below its norm; Missouri to 70 points, or 13 below its norm; and, Texas to 70 points, or 6 points below its norm. In those three games, Kansas shot 44 percent, Missouri 41 percent and Texas 34 percent. That defense packaged with offensive numbers of 84, 80 and 75 points ... yes ... makes "this" K-State team the best in the league during a 7-1 month of February. All of this comes after a 1-4 start to the Big 12 season. "I knew as we went through the schedule there would be days that we would be challenged," Martin said. "How we would handle those emotions would determine who we would become. We're not dwelling on failure, and we're not celebrating wins. We're only moving on to compete to get better." Mission accomplished. While there were some mid-season rumblings about how many of these Wildcats really improved over last year, the answer is on the court today. Jacob Pullen ... playing as well as any guard in K-State history at both ends of the floor; Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts ... humongous improvements over last year; Curtis Kelly ... starting to play at last year's level; Nick Russell and Martavious Irving ... have answered the call off the bench on a number of occasions; Jamar Samuels .... while not the numbers of last year, there's a maturity level that wasn't present a year ago; and Will Spradling and Shane Southwell are playing with a composure matched by few freshmen before them. And consider this fact: It marked K-State's fifth win this season against a ranked team, AND the three wins over Top 20 teams in a span of 15 days has never been accomplished before. AND it marks only the seventh time in Wildcat history that two wins over Top 10 teams have been recorded in the same year. Oh yes, "this" team also has a player excelling to such a high level that there will be a time that "No. 0" will sway from the K-State rafters. Yes, Pullen has played in more games than any other Wildcat in history, but it's also fact that only Mike Evans has scored more points, and no athlete in a Purple jersey has enjoyed more double-figure games (101), more 3-pointers (287) and collected more steals (207) than Mr. Pullen. No Wildcat has ever played with the same personality as his coach in terms of grit, controlled anger, spirit and passion than No. 0. Pullen's current run of 136 points in a five-game span has been bettered by only two other Wildcats in history. That's Askia Jones (152 points) in a run that included a freakish 62-point game, plus Michael Beasley multiple times, including a personal high of 170 points over five games. The result is a five-game Wildcat winning streak entering Saturday's 12:30 p.m. tipoff against Iowa State in Bramlage Coliseum with K-State playing as well as any team in the country. "Everybody wrote us off. They cast our season down the drain," Pullen said of the Wildcats' 1-4 start in the conference. "People say we're a good team again, but we can't let things like that get into our locker room, and we can't let down our guard." But he added, "Our morale is to the sky." And he concluded, "At the end of the day, we're going to write our own future."