Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
A snowstorm moved through this site of the West Regional before BYU tipped off against Kansas State on Saturday. Then, after the Cougars raced to a 10-point lead, another blizzard wiped Dave Rose's team out of the NCAA Tournament in the Ford Center.
Jacob Pullen, a Chicago-born 3-point artist, went Jimmer Fredette on the Cougar zone in this second round in leading K-State to an impressive 84-72 win.
Pullen pulled a career high 34-point performance on BYU. It was reminiscent of the 43-point career performance by Gerry McNamara of Syracuse against BYU in the first round of the 2004 tournament. Pullen made 7 bombs and was a perfect 11-of-11 from the line.
Painfully, BYU tends to bring out the best in opponents at times. Pullen's 34 was one better than the career best by UNLV's Tre'Von Willis in Las Vegas, the night the Rebels went Fredette on the Cougars.
The loss ended the most successful win season in BYU history, locked in the books at 30-6. The loss ended a year BYU found a perch in the national rankings for a dozen weeks and caught the imagination of many nationally. This team will be known as the one that ended the 17-year drought in the Big Dance with a first-round victory.
"Our team has improved every year," said BYU coach Dave Rose. "This is something we can build on as new players are recruited and enter the program with even higher expectations."
Against the second-seeded Wildcats, BYU led the Big 12 runner-up before a KSU partisan crowd until a few ticks over four minutes remained in the first half. That's when Pullen's 3-ball gave KSU a 28-27 lead and he exploded with treys to move it to a 41-31 halftime advantage.
The Cougars survived Pullen's barrage of 20 points in the first half, but they could not defend the Wildcats without fouling. They were woefully inept at keeping K-State off the offensive boards and suffered mightily by failing to score inside the paint.
As feared, K-State's guard duo of Pullen and Denis Clemente was too much for the Cougars to handle.
"Those are as good a tandem of guards as there are in the country," said Rose.
Before BYU and KSU played, Northern Iowa pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament in knocking off No. 1 seed Kansas. The Panthers did it with man-to-man defense and an effort that never wavered.
For myriad reasons, the Cougars protect some of their weaknesses with a zone and Pullen and Clemente gobbled it up. The duo combined for 15 of KSU's 23 field goals and took 33 shots for 53 points.
Rose said BYU mixed up its defense, and for a third of the game, it was effective, forcing the ball out of the paint and into the hands of the shooters, who missed some shots.
Then, Pullen zeroed in.
KSU's guards, and a 39-29 rebound disparity proved a mountain for BYU. But when Frank Martin's club knocked down 27 of 30 free throws, the Cougars couldn't finish a charge in the waning minutes after cutting the deficit to seven points several times.
KSU did a great job neutralizing Fredette, who scored 37 against Florida on Thursday. The Cougar junior finished with 21 points, 10 from the line.
"He likes to attack the middle of the floor. For the most part, we did a decent job of not giving him looks and keeping him out of the middle of the floor. What we didn't want to have happen is what happened at the first of the game where we were caught staring at their shooters," said KSU coach Frank Martin.
Saturday's exit by the Cougars was a strong effort that failed in execution due to KSU's defense and skill offensively.
"Our guys played hard," said Rose. "This was as hard as Noah Hartsock has played all year and he had eight rebounds against some very talented guys."
Rose will say good-bye to seniors Chris Miles, Jonathan Tavernari and Lamont Morgan as he gives a sabbatical to mission-bound freshman Tyler Haws. He and Fredette will sit down and discuss merits of an NBA evaluation and if his star junior should consider putting his name in for the draft.
That's a decision all MWC coaches will be watching closely with crossed fingers.
"Right now, this is all I'm thinking about, this game and my teammates," said Fredette.
BYU returns home, not to the West Regional in Salt Lake City but to lick its wounds and sift through highlights of a remarkable run.
It was a good show while it lasted.
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