Coming off the euphoria of an Elite 8 finish and that incomparable double-overtime win over Xavier in Salt Lake City, K-State was poised to accomplish big things in the 2010-2011 season. The Wildcats began the season ranked No. 3 in all the land.
Some of the good vibes were derailed by the Dillards Discount fiasco, and the team struggled through more than half of the season. A November loss to No. 1 Duke could be forgiven, but consecutive falters against Florida (a game in which K-State scored only 44 points) and in an unfocused effort against UNLV at Sprint Center in December turned out to be harbingers of a rough start to conference play.
The offense that had scored readily the previous year with Denis Clemente running the point struggled so mightily that Assistant Coach Brad Underwood convinced Coach Martin to let him teach and implement the “Pinch Post” offense mid-season.
The Cats dropped four of their first five in conference play, and by mid-January had fallen all the way out of the rankings. They beat Baylor, took their annual beating in Allen Fieldhouse by a 90-66 count, then beat woeful Nebraska and snuck out a one-point victory at home over Iowa State. A week later at Colorado, a last-second three-pointer from Rodney McGruder that would have given K-State a one-point victory was nullified on review. The once-No. 3 Wildcats were 16-8. 4-6 in Big 12 play, and in very genuine danger of missing the NCAA field a year after reaching the Elite 8.
The Manhattan version of the Sunflower Showdown was on Big Monday. The line was KU by 2. I remember saying, at the time, that if I lived in Vegas, I would borrow $10,000 to bet on KU,
Good thing I didn’t live in Vegas.
Jacob Pullen was transcendent that night. He scored 38 points on only 17 shots from the floor. He also had three rebounds, five assists, two steals and—believe it—a blocked shot. Toward the end of the game, he could have taken it to the hoop to get 40. But he deferred, prompting Bill Self (who, after all, knows about these things) to sum up his genuine admiration of J-Pullz with one word: “Class.”
The Wildcats’ 84-68 win represented the largest margin over Kansas since 1982, when a team led by Tyrone Adams (who scored 17), Ed Nealy (who had 10 rebounds), Les Craft and Tim Jankovich beat the Jayhawks 70-53 in Ahearn Fieldhouse. I threw this extraneous detail in for the old folks. We have to stick together.
Frank and the 2010-2011 guys would go on to win their last five games of the season and to beat No. 19 Utah State in the NCAA tournament before falling, 70-65, to (who else?) Wisconsin. Damn you, evil Badgers.
We’re going to rewatch Pullen’s senior year opus tonight, beginning at 7:00 Central Daylight Time. Join us. Marvel at the spectacle. Dream of better days, past and yet to come.