KSU’s Jacob Pullen learning to be leader

Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen celebrates with the Bramlage Coliseum crowd following the Wildcats' 84-68 upset win over Kansas on Monday, Feb. 14, 2011.

As you might recall, Kansas State coach Frank Martin recently blamed himself for Jacob Pullen’s early-to-midseason problems — just one of the many issues that have derailed a season that began with the Wildcats as a member of the preseason Top 10.

“(Pullen) didn’t do a very good job of leading, and that’s where I needed to help him, and I didn’t,” Martin said. “It’s no surprise that when I started doing a better job of helping him, he started doing a better job of playing.”

The biggest piece of evidence that Pullen is doing a better job was his 38-point performance in K-State’s — can we say a little shocking? — Monday-night blowout of top-ranked Kansas.

Pullen in a recent conversation admitted his designation as Big 12 preseason Player of the Year wasn’t so much a burden. The load was the expectation that he would put his team on his back and lead it to a Big 12 championship by himself.

“Just the weight on my shoulders for the overall team — trying to get everybody involved, trying to score and be a leader, all those things were a lot on my plate that at one time I wasn’t able to digest,” Pullen said. “I tried to eat too fast.”

Pullen tried to be both himself and be departed point guard Denis Clemente. He also let himself and his team down by being party to a scheme in which he and teammate Curtis Kelly availed themselves of clothing discounts at a local department store.

He accepts blame for that short-sighted fiasco, which resulted in a disruptive three-game suspension. And he said he’s not going to let Martin take sole blame for his problems.

“That’s what’s so great about Frank,” Pullen said. “Frank is the type person who will always take responsibility for what happens.

“I blame myself. There are a lot of things I could have done differently. But me and Frank have both taken responsibility for that and that’s the great thing. We’ve stuck together through all that’s happened and now we’re looking toward improving things.”

The win over KU improves things. But where outsiders figured this team would by now be on its way to a conference title, the Wildcats (17-9, 5-6) are trying to rescue an NCAA Tournament bid after struggling through a season of suspensions, unexpected losses and the impact of three players leaving the program during the season.

Most would figure this as the most difficult season of Martin’s career.

Not so, he said Wednesday.

“Difficult is what (KU’s) Thomas Robinson is going through (after losing his mother in January). Difficult is what (former player) Clent Stewart went through three years ago, losing his mom in the middle of the season,” Martin said.

“I mean, kids making mistakes, losing a couple of games? That’s part of the season. Nothing difficult about that. This is what teaching is all about. If I can’t deal with that, I need to find a new profession.”

Bull’s-eye on Texas

So many things stand out about this Texas team. But the one thing I keep thinking is, when is UT going to take a game off? When do the rigors of the season lead to a momentary meltdown?

When will the No. 3-ranked Longhorns not get up for a so-called lesser opponent?

That hasn’t happened. And one of the mitigating factors in their 11-0 conference record has been the way the Longhorns jump opponents from the tipoff.

Though not until Gary Johnson’s early second-half scoring spurt did Texas get comfortable in the 73-55 victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night, the Cowboys were looking up out of a 27-15 hole with eight minutes remaining in the first half.

Building an early lead has been a constant against every opponent but Kansas, against whom Texas came back to win after being down by 15 points twice early in the game.

How have the Longhorns kept that intensity?

“We know guys are going to come at our necks now because of the situation we’re in,” Johnson said. “We’re in the conference lead, guys need a key win. So we feel like everybody is against us every game we play from here on out.”