February 27, 2008

Pullen continues to show progress

Kansas State had just lost its third straight game, but instead of pouting in the aftermath of a nine-point loss at home to No. 5 Texas, freshman point guard Jacob Pullen looked ahead to the next opportunity at No. 6 Kansas on Saturday at Allen Field house in Lawrence, where the Wildcats will try to end a four-game road skid in league play.

"That's what we need, a win, no matter where we get it from," Pullen said. "It would be nice to get it this Saturday to build on against Colorado. It's tough to win in the Big 12."

Pullen came off the bench to score 19 points on 7 for 13 shooting from the floor, including five 3-pointers. Playing against sophomore All-America candidate D.J. Augustin, Pullen added four assists and three steals and committed three turnovers in 28 minutes.

K-State first-year coach Frank Martin afterward put things into perspective.

"(Pullen) had some moments defensively in the second half whether he was tired, young, whatever it might be, where he didn't guard the ball, but I'm sitting here talking about a man who's 18-years-old playing in his first college season against the best point guard in the country," Martin said.

It marked another step in a season-long growth process for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Pullen, who has averaged 12.4 points and has connected on 43.5 percent (17 for 39) of his 3-pointers with 3.4 assists to 2.2 turnovers in his last seven games. In two of his last four contests against Missouri and Baylor, though, Pullen combined for nine points with three assists and three turnovers in 42 minutes.

Those performances were in stark contrast to Pullen's effort against then-No. 2 Kansas in a 84-75 win in Manhattan on Jan. 30, in which he had 20 points with four assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes against a backcourt that featured seasoned Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers.

While Pullen's consistency remains a weekly topic, he and Martin both notice a trend.

"I don't know if I'm born this way, but coach says sometimes I play to the level of my competition," Pullen said. "Some games I don't play as great but when I play against teams like Kansas and Texas I play good games. I'm just trying to be consistent like coach wants and play my good games against everybody."

Martin said, "Jacob has gotten better at being more consistent and the more consistent he is the better he has as a player and the better your players become the better team you can have."

Pullen's 19 points against the Longhorns was a bright spot for a team that struggled to find the basket outside of freshman superstar Michael Beasley. Beasley collected 30 points and 15 rebounds for his nation-leading 24th double-double. After Pullen, the rest of the Wildcats combined for 16 points on 5 for 33 shooting, including an 0 for 14 effort from Bill Walker.

The loss to the Longhorns furthered another trend.

In eight games since the win over Kansas, Beasley is shooting 53.7 percent (78 for 145) while the rest of the team is a combined 39.2 percent (143 for 364). While 3-point accuracy has remained about even (Beasley is 30.7 percent, the rest of his team 31.4 percent), Beasley has made 83.5 percent (66 for 79) of his free throws. His teammates are a combined 58.2 percent (60 for 103) from the line in the last eight games.

Pullen remains optimistic as after facing Kansas, the Wildcats meet Colorado in Manhattan on Tuesday on Senior Night before traveling to Iowa State on March 8 for the final game before the Big 12 Tournament.

Bottom line: "I just want to win."

"I wouldn't say our confidence is wavering," Pullen said. "Coach just says to keep our heads up and play hard. Sometimes everything doesn't go your way. I don't think our confidence is wavering. Mike and Bill and the rest of the team is going to step up and try to get a win on Saturday.

"(Kansas) has good guard play. I wouldn't be surprised if they guard us aggressively. It's going to be another good matchup."

Pullen remembers the win against Kansas like it was yesterday. Beasley had 25 points, Walker 22 and Pullen 20. At the time, Pullen's performance against a veteran backcourt was considered somewhat of a surprise.

"I caught them off-guard," Pullen said. "I guess it's their mistake. I guess I could catch them off-guard again, I don't know."

Given his effort against the Longhorns, Pullen likely isn't a surprise anymore.

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