Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor and K-State guard Jacob Pullen tried to dismiss talk surrounding tonight's highly-anticipated matchup between the two Wooden Award finalists.
"It should be a good matchup, but at the end of the day it's a team game," said Pullen, who averages 19.6 points and 3.7 assists. "Both of our teams have to come out and play if we're going to advance to the next round."
Taylor, a 6-foot-1 junior, averages 18.2 points and 4.7 assists and was an All-Big Ten selection and All-Defensive team.
He also wanted no part of making the game about himself and Pullen, but didn't hesitate to say he was looking forward to playing against another one of the nation's best.
"Anytime you play a player like (Pullen)... players like that bring out the best in you, you have to bring your 'A' game," Taylor said. "But at the end of the day it's about the team."
Pullen thought in order for the Wildcats to be successful, whoever Taylor was guarding was going to have to test him.
"We really got to make him guard," Pullen said. "We got to make sure he is using his energy on both ends of the floor, not just the offensive end."
Wisconsin has given up an average of 58.3 points, which makes them fourth-best in the nation. KSU guard Rodney McGruder, who averages 11.4 points and 6 rebounds, said he admired that style of play.
"I feel like I'm a real physical player, so I like that contact-type game," McGruder said. "But you watch them on film and you can't help but respect the way they play defense."
Wisconsin's dirt roads
If anyone knows them, it's Badgers coach Bo Ryan, in his ninth season at Wisconsin. Before that, he spent two years at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and 15 seasons at Wisconsin-Platteville.
Since Ryan took over at Wisconsin before the 2001-02 season, 77 of the team's 132 roster spots have been filled with Wisconsin players, many of them from small towns.
"No, I don't think there's any part of Wisconsin that I haven't had a chance to either recruit somebody or speak or maybe play a golf course there, something like that,'' Ryan said. "And when we used to do our golf outings, we used to hit, like, 15 cities in the state. (Former Wisconsin athletic director) Elroy Hirsch said, 'Get in the van, here we go. I told Elroy I don't golf, that I've never golfed. He said, 'Well, you're going to learn.' So we hit cities east, west, north — everywhere.''
Ryan said the chicken dinner circuit that all college coaches used to hit hard has slowed down some in recent years. And his assistant coaches do a lot of the leg work, of course.
Seven of the 14 players listed on Wisconsin's roster are home grown. From the 2004-05 season through 2007-08, a four-year stretch during which the Badgers were 105-32 and reached an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen, 38 of 59 roster spots were taken by players from Wisconsin.
Speed it up
After ending the Big Ten Tournament with a 36-33 loss to Penn State, Wisconsin has become the team everyone in the country points to when discussing low-scoring games. The Badgers like to slow games down, and they don't care who knows it. K-State will try its hardest to avoid a dull pace today.
"Our gameplan is going to be to go," Curtis Kelly said. "To go after every rebound, taking the ball out, we're going to go. We know they're going to slow it down. But as long as we get our stops and we lock in defensively, it shouldn't matter their pace of the game because we're going to switch into our pace on the other side of the floor."
Chasing the record
Pullen needs 21 points to match K-State's career scoring record of 2,115 set by Mike Evans (1974-78). Not that he is thinking about any individual superlatives.
"I don't want to focus on the wrong thing," Pullen said. "I have bigger things in mind than me being the all-time scoring leader. I want to win another game and get to New Orleans. If it happens in this game, it does. It will be better if it doesn't happen this game and I get to play another game."
Back home in Washington, D.C., last summer, McGruder had two major projects: Working on his game and working on his body art.
The sophomore guard came to K-State already well-versed in body art, with a mural of stars, writing and symbols filling up his right arm from the elbow to the wrist, all leading to a dove that takes up a good part of the top of his right hand.
"The dove is for my grandma, who died," McGruder said. "That's the one people ask about the most."
He added a large, shaded-in star that covers up his Adam's apple and is framed above by two smaller stars that peek out above his shirt line. The final part of his summer masterpiece was a large skull that takes up almost all of his left tricep.
"The neck really wasn't that bad," said McGruder, pulling down his practice jersey to display his art. "But the tricep... man that was painful."
—Kellis Robinett, Tony Adame
and Bob Lutz