It’s hard to say a player got shut down when he scored 21 points like Jimmer Fredette did against Kansas State during the NCAA Tournament last season. But anyone who watched the 2011 Player of the Year candidate drop 43 on San Diego State last night knows how phenomenal Jacob Pullen was against him last March.
Especially when you consider Pullen scored 34 points while holding The Jimmer down.
During my weekly chat with K-State assistant Brad Underwood, we got to talking about how fantastic Fredette looked on TV last night, which of course led to some reminiscing.
What did Pullen do so well against a player that now looks like he can’t be guarded?
“Jake did an unbelievable job last year. Jake is a very good on-ball defender, and he sat down and he guarded him. He made it very difficult for him to get where he wanted to go. At the end of that game, I think we had him tired. We had him wore out. We didn’t put him at the line a ridiculous amount of times.
“When you’re a great ball-handler, which Jimmer is, and you’re a great free throw shooter, you become very hard to guard. No one wants to put you on the line. It’s a double-edged sword. He’s going to make both shots, and you’re going to get a foul put on your team. He’s got so much versatility in his game that he’s very difficult to guard.
“The thing is, he still got his. He got 21 against us. The one thing he has talked about, and it was very evident last night, is that he has worked very hard at making himself stronger and in better condition. He has worked on his conditioning. He was never winded. He was in on every play, every second of the game.
“When you run around as much as he does and get banged and bumped you’ve got to be in phenomenal physical condition. He’s obviously there. I was blown away by him.”
Does that only make you appreciate what Pullen did on him more?
“Definitely. But remember, Jake can guard. I think everyone has been able to see that the last couple games, in terms of what he’s done on Khris Middleton and LaceDarius Dunn. Everyone talks about Jake’s scoring, well that’s the second best part of Jake’s game in my opinion.
“When he gets down and guards, he’s as good a defender as there is out there, especially on the ball. He’s smart, he anticipates and he’s got some toughness. He made it very difficult for Jimmer, but you can tell that young man has put in a lot of work and time. Not just on his shot, but his physical conditioning. I was so impressed by that last night. He just was not tired, and the San Diego State guys were going to the bench and dying. I know they played at elevation, but he was running all over the place.”
I was really impressed by his crossover. Seems like he’s added that to his game as well.
“He had it last year, too, and Jake picked him. Once at midcourt and once again on a spin dribble. It’s a tribute to Jake that he was able to do that. And it’s a tribute to Jimmer to see what he’s doing now. You start scoring that many points in a game, and clearly you have a lot of god-given abilities and have put in a lot of work. He’s just so hard to guard. He’s strong, and he’s got the body.”
You have a big game of your own coming up on Saturday. Tell me, how has Kansas changed since you saw the Jayhawks last season?
“They’re obviously a different team. They lost three pros. One of them, Sherron Collins, impacted the game as much as anybody in the league did offensively. One of them, Cole Aldrich, impacted it as much as anyone defensively. In our games last year, Cole was just a tremendous presence at the rim.
“Today, I think they have probably the best interior player in our league in terms of scoring the ball, Marcus Morris. Markieff isn’t far behind. Then you’ve got a three-year guy in Tyshawn Taylor running things. Tyrel Reed has turned into an outstanding Big 12 player. He makes every shot. Brady Morningstar has turned into a very solid defender, and we haven’t even talked about Josh Selby yet.
“They are a very good team that has got maybe not as much size as they have had in the past without Cole. They’ve changed a little bit, but not dramatically. They’re talent level is still very high.”
What does K-State need to do to be successful against Kansas?
“It obviously starts with the Morris twins at the basket, you’ve got to guard them. I think they’re very good in transition, especially at home. The one thing we haven’t done there is get off to a very good start in our time there. You look at what they did blitzing Texas. They made shots and came back, but you have to find ways to avoid that start. You have to find ways to stay in it early and let the game evolve without being down huge. That’s always a key for us. That’s something we haven’t done real well in that building.
“We have to rebound the basketball. The other thing that has hurt us against them has been their role guys, Tyrel and Brady. They’ve jumped up and made shots. We have to be very conscious of them and not let them have huge nights.”
Will Spradling is coming off two impressive games. What has he done to break out of the slump he was in, and be a factor for this team?
“As a freshman everything is an adjustment every single night out. You go in not knowing what you’re going to get. The coaches can prepare you and tell you what it is going to be like, but until you actually see it and experience it up close it’s hard. That’s where he’s very gifted. He only needs to see it once and he’s got a grasp.
“Now, Will has never played at Allen Fieldhouse. That’s a new experience, and he’ll have to get adjusted to that. I think he is becoming more familiar, though, because things aren’t as new to him in terms of personnel and how people are playing him. He knows what to expect. He has a high basketball IQ, and he works as hard as any player in terms of his individual game.
“I think it’s a natural process to have some ups and downs as a freshman, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence. The one thing about Will is he’s not afraid to make plays, because he’s put in the time. The only thing that can jump up and grab him is inexperience, and that’s happened at times. But you’ve got to love a guy that isn’t afraid to step up and make plays and try to help you win games. That’s what he’s doing right now.”