Cyclones Hoping To Snap Big 12 Tournament Streak

By Rob Gray, Reporter

AMES, Iowa — It stretches back to 2005, when droves of Iowa State fans descended on so-called "Hilton Coliseum South": venerable and now Big 12-abandoned, Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

It spans three coaches, and serves as a reminder of when, not so long ago, the Cyclones' season would be ending three hours south of Des Moines, with no hint of an NCAA bid in sight.

It's ISU's lone remaining significant streak of futility – a seven-season, one-and-done skid in the Big 12 Championship – and it could end in Thursday's 11:30 a.m. quarterfinal against No. 4 seed Oklahoma at the Sprint Center.

"Stops and rebounds," Cyclone guard/forward Will Clyburn said of his fifth-seeded team's time-honored, sometimes-adhered-to formula for success. "Our offense is always there. We've just got to focus on defending and rebounding and I think we can go a long way."

ISU's players aren't the only ones convinced a stirring run can be spun this weekend at the Sprint Center.

Sure, there's league co-champions Kansas (26-5) and Kansas State (25-6) as de facto favorites, but Oklahoma State (23-7), the Cyclones (21-10) and the Sooners (20-10) can all point to reasons for optimism, as well.

"From one to ten, even the teams at the bottom have beaten some of the top teams," said ISU guard Chris Babb, whose team split blowout regular season games with Oklahoma. "I think that gives confidence to a lot of people."

It also lends credence to the term "wide open" — which is widely tossed around for every conference, every season, once tournaments convene.

"I personally think it will be the most exciting Big 12 tournament that we've had," Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. "This year's not predictable. At all."

Case in point: Saturday.

Sixth-seeded and once-fading Baylor thumped Kansas, 81-58.

Dead-last TCU held on for a 70-67 win over Oklahoma — and also shocked Self's team earlier this season.

Even West Virginia, seeded eighth, provided an object lesson on the mercurial nature of the Big 12, slashing a 27-point deficit against the Cyclones to four before falling 83-74.

"Anyone can get beat any day," said ISU forward Melvin Ejim, the conference's leading rebounder at 9.3 per game. "I think everybody knows they've got to be ready and it's exciting. It's exciting when you know you actually have a legitimate chance."

It's been that way all season.

Fifty-eight percent of Big 12 games have been decided in overtime and/or by 10 or fewer points.

And overtime — really, close games in general — have not often gone the Cyclones' way.

ISU is 0-3 in games that extend beyond 40 minutes, including two gut-wrenching losses to the Jayhawks, and 7-8 in games with outcomes determined by 10 points or fewer.

"We've got to go down there with the right mindset," said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, who last season led his team to its first NCAA Tournament bid in seven years.

Balancing consistent effort on offense and defense forms that favorable mental framework.

The Cyclones sustained one of their seven conference losses when holding a team to lower than 44 percent field goal shooting, but they fell twice when shooting 44 percent or better from 3-point range.

So a steady stream of stops, not merely drilling shots, will determine whether ISU extends its long-standing, short-stay status at Kansas City or finally makes another run.

"I've never had one," Ejim, a junior, said of a possible win down south. "We're going to try to win — at least get that first one. I think it would be great and show what strides we've made in the right direction. We've been doing great things in the regular season, but now we've got to take it over to the postseason."
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