KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tickets may never be this hard to get in Kansas City again with a Kansas State-Kansas Big 12 tournament title game at the Sprint Center Saturday at 5 p.m.
Get here early. Parking will be a premium and your eyes will be blinded by a purple haze on one side and a parade of blue filing in from all over downtown K.C.
What’s great about this time of year is seeing the big-time guards who step up and win these games. You can put Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente in this category officially going forward into the NCAA tournament. Pullen hit a 3-pointer with 1:59 left, holding his hand extended for an exclamation. He nailed the trey after a wild possession ended up in his hands, giving him a clear shot to the basket. The 3-pointer was the dagger for the Wildcats as they took a 74-69 lead before winning 82-75. Pullen then got to the free-throw line for two more. And when the Wildcats needed to stretch the lead one more time, Clemente was there to finish. Clemente managed the game quite well, keeping the Wildcats in check as Baylor continued to trade the lead with the Wildcats.
Kansas State still needs to get more inside, but as long as the guards rebound they should be good to go against Kansas on Saturday night and beyond. Dominique Sutton had 14 boards which would be huge if he could duplicate an effort like that Saturday. But Jamar Samuels has to get more than one board like he had against Baylor. Sutton did score 14 but the guards led as expected with Pullen scoring 26 and Clemente 24.
Kansas State could tighten up its defense, but let’s not dismiss how offensive a team Baylor can be going forward. The Bears have multiple weapons that will be tough to keep in check next week in the NCAA tournament. LaceDarius Dunn hit a big trey late in the game and finished with 26 points. Tweety Carter was a bit out of control with six turnovers to just four assists. That has to change for the Bears to advance next week. But the name you should remember from here is Ekpe Udoh. He is something special with the way he can score facing the basket, and of course on the offensive putback. He’s tough to keep off the backboard. The Bears had 18 turnovers, which is far too many against a team like Kansas State that thrives on taking advantage of a situation like that in an important game.
Kansas State and Baylor certainly have the look of two teams that can play into the second weekend. Both teams are flawed, but they create matchup problems. Still, it comes down to this: if the guards are on for Baylor, as they were earlier in the Big 12 tournament, then the Bears can advance. Kansas State has to have Pullen and Clemente play well. They did. They won.