SALT LAKE CITY – Kansas State would prefer to forget the last two times it played Xavier in Cincinnati.
The Musketeers would prefer to forget the last time they played the Wildcats in Manhattan, Kan.
On Thursday night, one of college basketball’s most unlikely budding rivalries will be settled in the West Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena.
The No. 2-seeded Wildcats and No. 6-seeded Musketeers have played each other three times in the last four seasons. Xavier won the first two games at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. The second meeting, a 103-77 victory on New Year’s Eve 2007, was the one that really left a bad taste in the Wildcats’ mouths.
“They beat us bad my freshman year,” Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen said. “You know, you don’t forget things like that, especially when it was New Year’s Eve.”
The Wildcats were in their first season under coach Frank Martin, and the trip to Cincinnati was one they would like to erase from history. Then-freshman Michael Beasley and another player left their shoes in Manhattan. It was Xavier’s highest scoring total in a game since 2001, and the most points Kansas State allowed in a game since 2002.
“They just really did what they wanted,” Pullen said. “They laughed on the court, played around. You just don’t forget things like that. So when you get the opportunity to play against a team like that, you always remember that, no matter if it’s one person from that team or 10 people from that same team. [It’s going to be] a little physical, you know? There’s some bad blood, but it’s nothing serious, nothing to start a fight about.”
The Wildcats went a long way in settling the score with the Musketeers in a 71-56 victory in Manhattan on Dec. 8. Kansas State held Xavier to only 29.4-percent shooting and had a 28-8 advantage in rebounds in the first half.
“It was our first road test of the season,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “We certainly didn’t pass it.”
The Wildcats held Musketeers star Jordan Crawford to only 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
“I think it was a pretty good team effort,” Kansas State Curtis Kelly said. “I just think we did a great job on him. He takes a lot of shots. He likes to put pressure on the defense. We made him take tough shots and we made him force a lot of things that he didn’t want to do.”
Crawford hasn’t taken many bad shots during the NCAA tournament. In Xavier’s 65-54 win over No. 11-seeded Minnesota in the first round, Crawford scored 28 points on 11-for-21 shooting. In a 71-68 upset of No. 3-seeded Pitt in the second round, he scored 27 points on 9-for-15 shooting. The Indiana transfer shot a combined 9-for-18 on 3-pointers in two NCAA games.
“They do a good job of denying all five players on the court,” Crawford said. “If we can just handle the pressure, get into our offense, execute, I think we can do a good job. They do a good job of taking teams off their offense. Once they get you like that, they get down with a transition and get easy buckets.”
A trip to the Elite Eight is on the line this time.
“I don’t think it’s a real rivalry, like us and [Cincinanti] or Dayton,” Xavier forward Jamel McLean said. “I think it’s a team we have a series with. We’ve got them, they got us. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s like a rivalry. We’re about to go out there and rally up and knock each other’s heads off.”
Sure doesn’t sound like a rivalry, does it?