KANSAS CITY, Mo. – With the NCAA Tournament looming next week, don’t think that it doesn’t matter. Don’t think that Saturday’s Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Championship game is just a marking time, doesn’t-matter contest.
“This is what you practice for,” Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. “This is what doing all the lifting, all the conditioning, all the off-season work. I’m happy for the players because they made the sacrifices.”
After Kansas disposed of Texas A&M in the first semifinal, Kansas State made it a Sunflower State championship game with its bare-knuckled 82-75 defeat of Baylor. The Jayhawks and the Wildcats will meet for the third time at 5 p.m. Saturday.
One more game and the Big 12 Conference’s seven-headed monster will be unleashed on the NCAA Tournament. Four of the teams that can do the most March Madness mayhem were on display in Friday’s semifinals, which had a Final Four feel – all four were in the top 12 in the NCAA’s latest RPI rankings.
Kansas State-Baylor was a thoroughly entertaining game. Sure, there were 29 turnovers and the occasional forced shot. But it came down to the two-minute warning before the outcome was determined.
When the Wildcats beat the Bears, 76-74 in Waco on Jan. 26, the game came down to the final minute. Little changed with the passage of time or the change in venues. Baylor got 26 points from guard LaceDarius Dunn while Epke Udoh had 18 points with 11 rebounds.
Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen matched Dunn while Denis Clemente added 24 with seven assists. Kansas State’s Dominique Sutton had a double 14 – 14 points and 14 rebounds.
“Dom had a bad last week of the season,” Wildcats coach Frank Martin said. “He’s a confidence player and he started the second half with a dunk and he started to feel good.”
The Wildcat trio tag-teamed Baylor. Clemente scored nine of 12 at one stretch of the first half then Pullen hit consecutive 3-pointers late in the half. Sutton started the second half with seven points in four minutes before Pullen made the big plays down the stretch.
“As a team, we’re playing great off of each other,” Pullen said. “We’re an unselfish team. Today we took turns. As a team we do a great job of sharing the ball.”
Udoh picked up his fourth foul with 11:20 remaining and the Bears trailing 56-51. Despite his absence, Baylor was able to forge a 67-66 lead on Dunn’s 3-pointer with just under five minutes remaining.
It was a two-point game (71-69) for more than a minute before Sutton and Pullen combined for the clinching play.
Sutton chased down a Curtis Kelley miss and fired a pass to the top of the key. The ball was nearly intercepted by Baylor and tipped to Pullen, who calmly drained a 3-pointer for a 74-69 lead with two minutes remaining.
“That play (Sutton) made ... he came out of nowhere to chase down that offense rebound,” Martin said. “That’s a big-time play.”
As the Baylor fans exited the Sprint Center, they were probably besieged by ticket brokers anxious to make a profit on Saturday’s championship game. It’s a sellout and tickets are expected to be scalped in the $300 to $400 range.
“That’s gonna be a tough ticket,” Drew said. “Hopefully that’s another game where we’ll show the nation we’re the best conference.”