Two Chicago point guards, neither of whom quite measures 6 feet. About the time one was sitting at his locker inside the Ford Center, trying to complete sentences with a shaky, shaky voice and red eyes, the other was out on the court, completely changing the tone of a game.
Sherron Collins had his day two Aprils ago in San Antonio, helping Kansas to win its third NCAA Tournament title with one clutch play after another.
Jacob Pullen made sure Saturday that his team, Kansas State, stayed alive to continue its pursuit of a national title. You can’t get one of those without first advancing to the Sweet 16. Thanks to Pullen, K-State has done that for the first time since 1988, when Mitch Richmond led the Wildcats to the Elite Eight, where Danny Manning’s Kansas team knocked them out of the tournament.
Collins shared tearful embraces with teammates then spoke to reporters.
“We’re grown men, but it hurts,” Collins said, explaining the tears after a shocker of a loss to Northern Iowa. “You know what I’m saying? It hurts. It hurts.”
When Collins and Pullen, old high school rivals, faced each other as Big 12 foes, Collins had a 6-1 record, but on this day in the NCAA Tournament, the two men stood on opposite ends in every way.
Collins scored 10 points, made four of 15 shots and missed all six three-point attempts. He had four assists and five turnovers.
In leading Kansas State past Brigham Young, 84-72, Pullen scored 34 points, made seven of 12 three-pointers and all 11 free throws. He had four steals, making life miserable for BYU star Jimmer Fredette.
Kansas fell behind early and never could take control. K-State fell behind early and quickly took charge, thanks to Pullen.
As expected, Kansas State opened with 6-foot-5 Dominique Sutton guarding Fredette, who was too quick for him. The Cougars stormed to a 10-0 lead. K-State coach Frank Martin switched Pullen onto Fredette, and the game changed. Fredette couldn’t bring the ball up court because Pullen kept stealing it from him.
Pullen didn’t say he was bothered by the Jimmer Mania that had taken hold of the Ford Center and the national media, but how couldn’t it motivate him? The day before the game, the majority of the questions asked of Kansas State players centered on Fredette, who had torched Florida for 37 points in a double-overtime victory that set up the matchup with BYU.
Pullen prepared as if sure he would be asked to guard Fredette most of the game.
“After we played our first game, we had two, three meetings, just watching film,” Pullen said. “And when you watch personnel, you just really get a feel for what people like to do.”
Fredette made just one of four three-pointers and scored 21 points, 10 coming from the line. With Pullen hassling him, Fredette committed four turnovers.
Pullen kept his national-title aspirations alive hours after Collins’ hopes of his second in three years died on the same court.
“I can’t come back next year and get another chance at it,” Collins said. “That’s why it’s so bad.”
A junior, Pullen will be back next year, which is the last thing in the world on his mind.