TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Kansas State's Jacob Pullen won the individual matchup of marquee point guards, scoring anywhere and everywhere while Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor clanged one shot after another.
When it was over, Taylor was the one headed to the next round of the NCAA tournament, leaving Pullen dejected and wiping away tears with his jersey.
Finding ways to contribute even when his shots weren't falling, Taylor made the biggest plays of the game down the stretch, hitting two big free throws and blocking Pullen's tying 3-point attempt in the closing seconds to seal the Badgers' 70-65 win over Kansas State on Saturday.
"He was having a rough shooting night, but he was a taskmaster of his own skills and his own abilities," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "He's not going to throw the rest of it away simply because things have gotten away from him. He's that dedicated to being the leader on this team on the floor."
The anticipated duel of point guards was a one-sided show from a scoring standpoint, with Pullen matching a career high with 38 points and Taylor shooting just 2 of 16 from the floor.
Wisconsin's floor general made the plays when it mattered most, though, getting a steal in the post against a much bigger player to set up Mike Bruesewitz's tiebreaking 3 with 91 seconds left, then swatting Pullen's tying attempt after hitting two free throws that put the Badgers up by three.
Josh Gasser sealed it with two more free throws, sending fourth-seeded Wisconsin (25-8) into the round of 16 for the fourth time since 2000. The Badgers will face upset specialist Butler, a winner over top-seeded Pittsburgh, in the Southeast regional semifinals Thursday in New Orleans.
"I feel like I won the battle because we won the game," said Taylor, who had 12 points, six assists and no turnovers in 40 minutes.
Pullen, like he has throughout his four-year career in the Little Apple, poured his heart into what turned out to be his final game, almost single-handedly keeping the fifth-seeded Wildcats (23-11) in it.
He shot 6 of 8 from 3-point range and broke Wildcats great Mike Evans' school career scoring mark (2,115 points), but still left the court in tears that continued to flow in the postgame news conference, causing coach Frank Martin to stick up for his star player.
"I don't know. It's tough," Pullen said after being asked about his emotions. "You know, I want to win and ..."
Pullen started to break down and Martin jumped in.
"That's what you wanted to see? That what you were trying to get out of him? Make him cry here in front of people? Good question," Martin said sarcastically.
"I'm a competitor, man. I just wanted to win the game," Pullen continued, getting a pat on the head from teammate Curtis Kelly. "I don't care about a scoring record or anything else, man. I wanted to get to the Final Four and I didn't get a chance to do that."
Kansas State and Wisconsin met in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, though only a handful of current players saw playing time in the Badgers' 17-point win.
The rematch, of sorts, was going to be all about which team could get the other to play at its pace.
Wisconsin wanted the game slow, to squeeze K-State defensively and milk its deliberate, ball-control offense until late in the shot clock, the goal to either set up one of its multitude of shooters or allow Taylor to get into the lane for a layup or dish.
The Wildcats, with their slew of long, athletic players, wanted to turn the Badgers frenetic with pressure to set up easy baskets at the other end.
Kansas State had some speed-'em-up success against Utah State in its opener, hounding the Aggies in the first 20 minutes before holding on for the win in a sloppy second half.
Doing it against Wisconsin wasn't going to be easy.
The Badgers are on pace to set an NCAA record with 7.56 turnovers per game and are led by Taylor, whose 4.03 assist-to-turnover ratio was best in the nation. Wisconsin is also the best free throw shooting team in the country, close to another NCAA mark (Harvard, 82.2 percent in 1984) at 82.3 percent.
The Badgers played their deliberation operation to perfection in their NCAA opener, grinding down Belmont with 12 3-pointers while putting a spoke in the wheel of the Bruins' offense.
After a get-a-feel-for-it start, Wisconsin was able to establish its tempo in the first half against Kansas State, working the ball — deliberately, of course — around to set up shots along the perimeter. The Badgers made most of them, too, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers in the first half to lead 36-30.
Pullen was a freshman when Wisconsin ran over the Wildcats in 2008 and seemed intent on getting payback four years in the making, firing up jumpers even with a hand in his face and dashing into the lane, scoring 17 points in the first half.
Other than an early flurry by Kelly, who finished with 11 points, Pullen didn't get a lot of help, the rest of the team combining to miss its six shots in the first half.
"We made some shots early in the game, then went through a rut where we didn't make any shots," Martin said. "Jacob made shots, but no one else did."
Pullen got the Wildcats back in it quickly in the second half.
He opened by pulling up for a 3-pointer, then faked a pass behind his back to set up a layup and added another 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run. K-State was back to its swarming ways at the defensive end to complement Pullen's shooting, forcing Wisconsin to miss its first six shots of the half.
The Badgers rallied, went through another string of missed shots and rallied again to set up Taylor's finishing flourish that sent Wisconsin to the round of 16 for the first time since 2008.
"We just made plays. Everybody stepped up," said Jon Leuer, who led the Badgers with 19 points. "That's what you need in March if you want to keep playing, guys stepping up."
Taylor did and the Badgers get to keep going.