December 10, 2008

K-State guards still finding their way

Kansas State had hoped to help itself to some wins during an 18-day, four-game stretch away from Manhattan. A young team bustling with second-year players, the Wildcats sought to make a statement against the their most notable foes on the non-conference schedule. But on-again, off-again backcourt performances by Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente have earmarked three straight losses by the slimmest of margins. The duo looks to find its rhythm against Southern Mississippi at Kansas City's Sprint Center on Thursday night.

Pullen and Clemente would like to deliver a performance like they did against Oakland on Nov. 25 and before this current losing skid, which includes a pair of two-point losses to Kentucky and Iowa, and 75-70 defeat at Oregon on Sunday.

"When we're on it, we can really spread the game as we did against Oakland," said Pullen, who averages a team-high 15 points for the 5-3 Wildcats. "If I would've just made a few shots at Oregon, it would've really spread out the game and we could've taken control of it. It just didn't happen. We can do it. It's nothing that has to do with any one of us. It's just timing. Some nights, you're just not feeling it."

And the 6-foot, 200-pound Pullen knows that he was definitely not feeling it against the Ducks. K-State coach Frank Martin watched on as Pullen shot just 2 of 13 from the floor, misfired on all seven of his 3-point attempts and finished with a season-low four points and nine turnovers in arguably the poorest showing of his career.

"I just wasn't prepared that week," Pullen said. "I took a few days off because of my (left) heel (that he injured against Kentucky), which is no excuse. I just didn't practice well going into the game. I just didn't have a good game at all. Coach knew I wasn't going to have a good game, but he still trusted me to play hard. I just never got a feel for the game and had a bad one."

After practice on Tuesday night, Pullen responded to an inquiry regarding Martin's usage of the word "selfish" in the K-State huddle late in the contest.

"At that point in time, it was just anything to get me clicking," Pullen said. "(Martin) and I talked today. We talked after the game. It was just anything to get me clicking. He saw that I didn't have a fire in me and saw I was playing lackadaisical. He wasn't meaning that I was really just a selfish person, because if he thought that way I would never be on the court and I wouldn't be at Kansas State. It was just something to try and get me going. He said other things to me during the court of the game and during halftime just to get me going. I never got going. It was frustrating to him."

Clemente, a first-year player who sat out last season after transferring from Miami (Fla.), realizes either he or Pullen can feel it on any night. The task is for both to get it going in the same contest, as they did when Pullen had a season-high 26 points and five assists and Clemente had 19 points and a career-high eight assists in the Wildcats' 83-64 win against Oakland at Bramlage Coliseum.

That game seems like a while ago now.

The duo went a combined 14 for 29 from the floor, including 11 of 21 on 3-pointers and had 13 assists to five turnovers as K-State got its most impressive glimpse of what this backcourt tandem could be about this season.

But since then, it's been hit and miss.

Pullen and Clemente combined for 31 points but went just 12-for-37 from the floor against Kentucky. Against Iowa, Pullen had 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting, but Clemente fouled out with just two points in 12 minutes. Then Clemente had 19 points and Pullen had just four against the Ducks.

"I don't know what happened," said Clemente, who is second in scoring with 12.4 points per game. "It's coming. Sometimes (opponents) put their best defensive player on Jake and the next night they put the best defensive player on me. We've got skills, man. We've got to go and play ball and beat everybody. We can't lose no more."

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