March 8, 2008

Pullen propels Cats to much-needed win

AMES, Iowa -- Finally, the Kansas State Wildcats can set aside talk of the NCAA Tournament's bubble, the Big 12 Tournament's seeding and their inability to win on the road. With the Wildcats' 73-69 victory over Iowa State on Saturday at the Hilton Coliseum, K-State broke a five-game Big 12 road losing streak, locked up the conference tourney's third seed and virtually assured themselves of a bid into the NCAA's field of 65.

And the Wildcats have freshman point guard Jacob Pullen to thank.

Pullen scored a team-high 19 points for the Wildcats on 8 of 11 shooting from the field, but it was his driving scoop shot underneath Iowa State big man Jiri Hubalek with 1:19 left in the game that gave the Wildcats a 71-66 lead and proved to be the decisive play of the game.

"It was a great play," fellow K-State freshman Bill Walker said. "That's the Jake we need every game, plain and simple. He's making plays and being the player coach believes in."

"I reversed it because I thought the guy was going to block it, but I don't think he jumped. My plan was going to be to throw it to (Michael Beasley), but he didn't go to the rim," Pullen said.

The Wildcats built a 14-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game, but then went into cruise control and nearly blew their chance to take control of their season's fate. Iowa State responded to that 62-48 Wildcat lead with a 12-1 run over the next five-plus minutes to close the score to within three (63-60).

With freshmen Beasley (15 points, nine rebounds) and Walker (nine points and five rebounds) struggling through off games, the Wildcats scrapped against a pesky Iowa State team that could not take advantage of the numerous opportunities it had to take better control of the game.

"We became tentative," K-State coach Frank Martin said. "That may be because of some of our lack of success on the road. We had some breakdowns, some mental mistakes more on the defensive end than the offensive end. They defended us better than about anyone."

The victory ended the Wildcats' regular season with a 20-10 record overall and a 10-6 mark in the Big 12. Iowa State fell to 14-17 and 4-12. It was the Wildcats' second-straight win after losing four in a row and broke a road losing streak that lasted more than a month.

The fact that the Wildcats won a game when they didn't play close to their potential told Martin plenty about his team.

"We're a good, battled-tested team with a bunch of young kids who have matured," Martin said. "We lose four in a row and a lot of teams would have their spirits broken, but we go home and win (over Colorado) and then have to go back on the road where haven't been able to win on a night when our stars, for lack of a better word, didn't have a good game."

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