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January 13, 2009
Wildcats ready to run with Jayhawks
The scene is not one Jacob Pullen will soon forget. A sea of fans storming the court around you rarely is. The sophomore guard can recall every moment leading up to and following Kansas State's home win over Kansas a year ago, but he also calls back what took place in Lawrence just weeks later. He remembers the atmosphere, the noise, and more importantly, he remembers his team's 14-point loss.
Win or lose, it seems something about these games, like many rivalries, sticks with you. Sure, just two players on the Wildcats' current roster, both reserves, are from the Sunflower State, but Pullen, a Chicago native, insists state affiliation gets thrown out the window the second you take the court in Kansas' most important basketball game.
"It's something that you can't even explain (to those who have yet to play in the game)," Pullen said. "Nobody was able to explain to me how different and how difficult the games (against Kansas) were before I played in them. It's something they have to experience for themselves."
The once-bright lights surrounding this meeting have been significantly dimmed since the teams' last meeting, and this year's series is without much of the sex appeal it carried a year ago. There are no "marquee" names or noteworthy streaks involved. Guarantees aren't flying all over the state and it's highly unlikely that one of the schools involved will be hanging a national championship banner at season's end.
Still, even with both team's coming off of losses, according to the players involved, the lack of hype hasn't made Tuesday's meeting in Lawrence any less important in their minds. This is still anything but another game on the schedule.
"A lot of the newcomers we have, they haven't gotten the chance to see just how loud Allen Fieldhouse can be." Pullen said. "They'll see how we can't even here each other when we're trying to stretch and communicate."
K-State point guard Denis Clemente, though in his first season of action in Manhattan, isn't a newcomer in the traditional sense. Though enrolled at K-State during last season, the Puerto Rico-born Clemente sat out in order to fulfill NCAA transfer requirements and didn't make the trip to Lawrence with the Wildcats a year ago.
Still, if anyone expects the former Miami Hurricane to be wowed by anything he sees or hears on Tuesday, according to Clemente, those people might be in for a let down.
"I'm not afraid at all," Clemente said. "I'm not nervous. I've been in this situation before. I've played at North Carolina and Duke. In my mind, it's just going to be the same. It's going to be loud, but you'll be focused and you'll play hard. I don't hear anything except for me and my team."
Whether Clemente is affected by the environment or not, the speedy junior is going to have his work cut out for him on the court once the opening whistle blows. KU and K-State, both of which boast 11-4 records, would like nothing more than to play Tuesday's game at a NASCAR pace. The new year's first installment of the Sunflower Showdown is likely to feature a flurry of possessions, fast breaks and quick shots, which, not so coincidently, is exactly how both teams like it.
Fatigue will certainly play a role in this one.
"We work hard and try to get up and down the floor," K-State head coach Frank Martin said. "It's one of those things where there might be some segments of the game where there's a lot of running and flying around. It should be fun."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: As is the nature of this game, K-State fans can expect a hostile environment and blistering pace.
Kansas guard Sherron Collins, the Jayhawks' leading scorer, possesses the ability to get to the basket and get there in a hurry. The junior sets the table and dictates the speed of the game for the his team, but fortunately for the Wildcats, the tempo Collins will look to set is one they can live with, to say the least.
"They're as good at anyone I've seen at getting the ball down the floor," Martin said of Kansas. "They fly, they run and they do a tremendous job of that."
Knocking off the defending national champions takes more than an understanding of the pace at which they play. Sure, Kansas isn't the caliber of team it was a year ago, but that doesn't make it easy for any team, let alone the Jayhawks' in-state rival, to escape Lawrence with a win.
The bulk of Kansas' post scoring comes from sophomore Cole Aldrich, and the backcourt, led by Collins, is creative in getting him the ball.
"(Kansas does) a great job with ball screening," Martin said. "They use all those ball screens to create angles for their guards and their bigs to get scoring opportunities. The other thing, as we watch them on tape, is that they are a heck of a lot better defensively than they were two months ago."
With all that being said, however, it seems Martin thinks his team matches up with its rival well.
"I'm sure they've got ideas on how to attack us," Martin said. "I think our foundation -- our defense -- has to be good. Then, we have to rebound the ball. See, I thought, defensively and rebounding-wise, we were pretty good against Oklahoma. I was happy with our guys on that side of the floor, we just can't turn the ball over."
WHO'S HOT FOR THE WILDCATS: No K-State player shot the ball exceedingly well in the Wildcats' loss to Oklahoma on Saturday, but Clemente's 18 points, which came on 6-for-15 shooting, led the team's scoring effort.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE JAYHAWKS: Collins' 25 points headed up the Jayhawks' scoring in their recent loss to Michigan State. The junior also finished the game just two assists shy of a double-double, as he racked up eight assists in the contest.