SALT LAKE CITY — It is something all the experts and analysts are always stressing: a team must get good guard play to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
The Kansas State guards proved that theory true in the No. 2-seed Wildcats' 101-96 double-overtime win over 6-seeded Xavier in the Sweet 16 matchup of the West Regional Semifinals.
While lightning-quick senior point guard Denis Clemente finished with 25 points, 21 of which came after halftime, junior Jacob Pullen continued to show he is a big-time player with ice water in his veins scoring a team-high 28 points, including eight in the deciding second overtime. He hit two huge 3-pointers during that time — and huge is grossly inadequate to describe the enormity of the long-range bombs, and two free throws down the stretch.
As if the K-State duo putting up those type of numbers weren't proof enough, the Xavier guard tandem of Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway were certainly the reason the Musketeers found themselves in position to nearly pull off the upset. Holloway had 26 points and hit three free throws with five seconds remaining to put the game into overtime, and Crawford scored a game-high 32 points, including a 30-foot 3-pointer with only six seconds remaining in the first overtime to put it into the second extra stanza.
The Xavier guards were tremendous, but it was the Wildcat tandem that shone brightest.
"It was a classic, you know," said Pullen. "It was two teams that didn't want their seasons to end. We didn't play our best game, and it is a credit to them they played good defense and made tough shots, but every time we thought the game was over, we would walk to the line and you could just see it in their eyes that they didn't want their season to end either."
"If I got to score 30 points to win the game, I'll score 30 points; If I got to score 10 points to win the game, I'll score 10 points, but today I felt like I had to score more," added Clemente.
The win put Kansas State in the Elite 8 for with a chance at the Final 4 on Saturday when it faces No. 5 Butler at 2:30 p.m.