A Tough Pull

When these two teams last met in the NCAA Tournament, freshman Jacob Pullen scored only four points on 2 of 7 shooting in 22 minutes. Odds are the Badgers won't be so lucky when they see Pullen, now a season, Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament third round.

MADISON – When Wisconsin dispatched Kansas State in the round of 32 in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats were a freshman two-headed monster without much substance to support it. Kansas State had Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, but there was inconsistent depth and little experience on a team that hadn't won a tournament game since 1988.

That isn't the case when these two teams meet in the NCAA Tournament's third round in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday.

Yes, Kansas State (23-10) still relies heavily on its youth. The Wildcats' freshmen and sophomores have scored 1088 of the team's 2264 points thus far (48 percent), while posting 601 of 1186 rebounds (51 percent), 240 of 437 assists (55 percent) and 94 of 194 steals (48 percent).

But the real reason Kansas State advanced to the Elite Eight last season, beat No.1 Kansas and is a fifth seed in the national tournament is because of Jacob Pullen.

Pullen, a senior from Maywood, Ill., has scored 20 or more points in six of the last eight games and 13 of 19 contests, including a 22-point performance in the second round against Utah State Thursday despite missing practice the day before.

"He was just a freshman (in 08) and has obviously matured into one of the best guards in the country right now," UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. "He's gone through some of the same pathways as Jordan (Taylor). He wasn't always a good shooter, but now he's very respectable and dangerous from three. He's very quick with the ball and can blow by people to make things happen."

Surviving has been the team's theme all season, as Pullen as usually been the one carrying the leadership torch. Ranked fourth in the preseason Associated Press poll, the Wildcats began the season 1-4 in the Big 12. After a loss to Colorado dropped them to 4-6, Pullen continued his public demand to his teammates by declaring he would not end his collegiate career playing in the NIT.

He responded by putting the team on his back. He scored 38 points in a home upset over No.1 Kansas and led his team on a six-game winning streak to close the regular season, averaging 25.5 points.

That successful run made him the sixth player in the Big 12 era to score over 2,000 points for a career and ranks him in the Top 10 in six career categories in Big 12 Conference history, including second in free throws made (512), fifth in scoring, 3-point field goals attempted (815) and free throws attempted (664), seventh in 3-point field goals (292) and field goals attempted (1,565).

His run is similar to what junior guard Jordan Taylor has done for Wisconsin (24-8), which is fitting seeing as the two of them will likely be matched up against each other. Taylor, a first-team all-Big Ten selection, was only 5 of 13 shooting in the Badgers' 14-point victory over Belmont, but the savvy guard was 5 of 9 from 3-point range and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.

One of five Cousy Award finalists, Taylor finished second in scoring in Big Ten games (20.3 ppg) and has paced the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio virtually since Day 1 (153 assists to 38 turnovers).

"At this stage, you have to rely on instincts and your rules and your system defense," Gard said. "Jordan will obviously be in that situation with Pullen, but there is going to be a lot of other guys that will have to guard him in help and recover and switching situations. The biggest thing is stay within yourself and play the percentages like they have all year."

One of those players Gard referred to is sophomore Mike Bruesewitz, who pulled in a career-high nine rebounds and added 8 points. Bruesewitz practiced Wednesday, was cleared that night and reportedly is healthy for Saturday.

"Once he trusted his way, he knew he was going to be fine," Gard said. "It was a matter of getting into the game and getting that comfort level back. It took him a few trips up and down to break a sweat and then he was fine. He obviously played extremely well for us."

After getting three days to prepare for Belmont, Wisconsin got just one 90 minute practice session on Friday and a brief overview to prep for the Wildcats. While that may bother some younger teams, this will be the fourth consecutive time for Wisconsin's seniors that they've won their first round game and had to quickly prepare for the next opponent.

And just like in '08, the Badgers hope their quick K-state preparation will lead to school to their fifth Sweet 16 appearance in the last 11 years.

"We change very little in terms of what we are doing offensively and defensively within our system," Gard said. "We'll throw in a few wrinkles here or there, but we will do basically the same thing we've done the last 32 games. You try to take away what they do the most, but it comes down to our rules and sticking to what we do well."

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