Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen opened his mouth in a way that no doubt made his volcanic coach, Frank Martin, open his in a louder way. Pullen said he would not play in the NIT, if that’s where the implosion of this season of high hopes takes the Wildcats. In so doing, Pullen inspired enemy crowds to chant “N-I-T” every time he makes his way to the free-throw line.
Tyshawn Taylor opened his mouth Friday in a way that surely brought harsh words from his coach, Bill Self.
“I think it’s a good rivalry,” Taylor said.
OK, so far.
“The in-state rivalry is something big, but, I mean, I haven’t lost to them since I’ve been here, so I really don’t know how much of a rivalry it is,” Taylor said.
Ouch. A little bulletin-board material for the Wildcats. Probably not enough to make a difference, but a challenge that gives reeling K-State a cause.
Taylor is right. KU went 5-0 the past two years. Taylor hasn’t lost to K-State, but Pullen has beaten Kansas.
In his first taste of the rivalry badly in need of a better nickname than the Sunflower Showdown, Pullen came off the bench, drove to the hoop, drew fouls and got hot from beyond the three-point semi-circle. His 22 points led the Wildcats to victory in Manhattan. In five tries since, Pullen has come up short.
K-State will try to use Taylor’s words about the lack of a rivalry to inspire it to an upset that would inject hope into a season that started with the Big 12 coaches voting the Wildcats to win the conference. That pick didn’t take into account the ripple effect of the departure of blurry guard Denis Clemente. It also underestimated the difference between competing as hunters armed with massive shoulder chips and the hunted weighed down by intense expectations.
Bad pick, but just the fact the coaches thought that highly of the ’Cats serves as a reminder that they do have talent, and teams with talent, if everything goes their way on a night, can beat anybody.
The most experienced and talented on Martin’s team is Pullen, the Chicago guard who battled the past three years with Sherron Collins. K-State won’t be able to use anything Taylor said about Pullen to play up the lack-of-respect angle.
Taylor will guard Pullen tonight, and if he shuts him down, K-State will be lucky to stay within a dozen points.
“He’s crafty,” Taylor said. “He’s not really the fastest guard, but he’s real crafty. He’s got a real good handle, and he just knows how to play. He’s a senior. He’s a smart player. He’s a veteran. He knows how to get easy buckets to get himself going.”
Taylor’s focus wavers. When he’s too upright, he’s not concentrating. When he keeps his tail down and his man can’t get by him, he’s locked in.
“They run a lot of good stuff for him,” Taylor said. “They run a lot of plays to get him open. He doesn’t need much time to get it off when he’s open. So you have to lock in on him. You can’t relax. You’ve got to be in tune the whole time on him.”
Pullen has had at least one 20-point game three consecutive seasons against Kansas. It’s Taylor’s job to keep him from making it four in a row.