OKLAHOMA CITY -- It is a nickname dreamed up by former Voice of the Wildcats Mitch Holthus and calling Coach Frank Martin's Kansas State Wildcats the "Dobermans" does need a little explaining, but the BYU Cougars are fairly well versed on the meaning by now. After falling behind BYU 10-0 to start Saturday's NCAA Tournament second-round game at the Ford Center, Martin dropped the tailgate and unleashed the dogs on the Cougars as K-State clawed its way to the West Regional semifinals with an 84-72 victory.
BYU had clearly not seen anything like K-State's running, swarming, free-for-all style that turned the Cougars' dream start into a nightmare by the time the two teams went to halftime. The first 150 seconds might have been all BYU, but then K-State outscored the Cougars 41-21 the remainder of the half with Jacob Pullen pouring in 20 points in the first stanza alone.
"They were kind of rattled. We knew they didn't have great ballhandlers and we knew they didn't like the pressure, and once we got up into them a little bit, it made them a little shaky and nervous," K-State forward Dominique Sutton said. "Nobody really wanted the basketball, and that's what we wanted to do to them. We got them rattled and came up with some big-time steals."
BYU led 29-28 with three minutes remaining in the first half, but K-State closed the half with a 13-2 surge, including 11 straight K-State points from Pullen. That, though, wasn't where Pullen really starred. While he was busy scoring points, he was also flustering BYU star Jimmer Fredette, ending the game with four steals.
"Off the charts," is how K-State coach Frank Martin described Pullen's performance. "I preach team basketball. I preach you play both ends. It's not about catering to a good offensive player and (forgetting) the defensive side. I think our guys do that, and Jacob showed that today firsthand."
The nickname "Dobermans" came to Holthus when he did a game this season on the Big 12 TV network. The Wildcats were on the road in Lincoln, Neb., and dressed in their all-black road uniforms. They attacked Nebraska that night, and Holthus has called them Dobermans ever since. Now, a lot of other people are beginning to understand the reference.
"I don't think you can appreciate Kansas State until you see them in person. I had them in Nebraska and had seen them on film over a dozen times, but now I'm 20 feet from them and they've got those black uniforms on," Holthus told GoPowercat's Rob Cassidy in a recent interview. "Also, they just all have this long, lean look to them. (Nebraska's Jorge Brian) Diaz and Brandon Ubel came walking past them, and K-State's guys are kind of snarling at them. Right then, I was like, "'these guys are frickin' dobermans.
"ï¿½ They're just kind of junkyard dogs. They belong in the backyard, and you better keep them on the chain because they'll break that chain."
The seventh-seeded Cougars were the latest victims of Martin's second-seeded attack dogs. BYU turned the ball over nine times in the first half as they struggled to handle K-State's relentless pressure and dogged determination to hit the offensive boards. K-State grabbed 39 rebounds, including 15 on the offensive end, and scored 14 points off of second chances.
"We just woke up. It's like somebody telling you, 'I'm going to beat you up,' and then they walk out there and punch us. We were like, 'Oh, man, they hit us. We're down 10-0,'" Pullen said. "It was a lack of energy. We weren't in the passing lanes. They were passing the ball around, making a dribble move and then kicking it out for the wide-open three.
"We figured either we are going home and they're going to shoot wide-open threes or we're going to step up our defensive principles and really guard well. Offensively, we just had to get it in transition. That's our best offense."
The Wildcats not only played to their ferocious character, but they also stole BYU's identity in the process. The Cougars entered the game as one of the nation's top 3-point and free throw shooting teams. After the first-half fury the Cats unleashed, they kept the lower seed at bay with timely long-range shooting and bulls-eye accuracy from the charity stripe.
Led by Pullen's personal-high 34 points, which included seven 3-pointers, the Wildcats connected on 11 of 27 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, the desperate Cougars sent the Wildcats to the line, and they were Dobermans from the stripe, too, hitting 27 of 30 for 90 percent.
"If it weren't for free throws, the game would have been closer," Sutton said. "That's the best we've done all year, and that's what we need come tournament time, for everyone on the team to step up and hit free throws."
The victory moves K-State into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1988, and sends them to the West Regional semifinals in Salt Lake City to play the winner of Sunday's Pitt-Xavier game Thursday. No matter who the opponent is for the Wildcats, expect them to play with the ferocity that has propelled them to a 28-7 record this season.
"It's a special group of kids," Martin said. "I talk to them all the time about embracing being a good team. It's a big responsibility to be a good team. It's easy to lose. It's easy to give in. It's hard to fight. They fight."
Yes, they do. These Wildcats fight like angry dobermans.