Confidence surging as Cyclones head to Stillwater


Photo: Kendra Plathe/Iowa State Daily

Forward Royce White runs down the court during Iowa State’s 72-70 win again Kansas State on Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Hilton Coliseum. White scored 22 points — including the game-winner with 1.8 seconds left — and had eight rebounds against the Wildcats.

Jeremiah Davis

Fans and observers may think confidence hasn’t ever been an issue for the 2011-12 ISU men’s basketball team.

This was the team with the four hyped transfers, after all, and NCAA tournament talk started before the season began.

But, coach Fred Hoiberg said, confidence that the team could play as one and grind out wins in the Big 12 is just now starting to hit its stride.

“We’re playing with a different level of confidence right now,” Hoiberg said. “Our focus has been great since we started conference play.

“Guys are doing a better job of understanding roles right now, and accepting those roles. And that all plays a part.”

Guard Chris Babb, who went 4-of-7 from 3-point range en route to 12 points against Oklahoma on Saturday, said Iowa State has done its best to “keep improving.”

Babb said he too has seen the Cyclones come together as a group and understand where they each fit.

“I think everybody’s buying into their roles and buying into the concept of what we need to do to win,” Babb said.

Any overconfidence or boasting waned during the Cyclones’ nonconference schedule, when Hoiberg often talked of the team’s need to come together in adverse situations and understand what they need to do when the game’s on the line.

Forward Royce White said Monday in a news conference that he thought the confidence turnaround began when conference play started and Iowa State got a win against Texas at home.

“I would probably say when we got to conference play,” White said when asked when the turnaround began. “Beating Kansas always helps. Playing them the first time was a confidence booster. Playing Missouri the first time was a confidence booster. And after that, we knew we could play with anybody, it was just a matter of going out and executing the game plan and getting a win.”

While Hoiberg agreed the team’s recent confidence surge started with conference play, it was the game right before the Big 12 season started, he said, that sparked the overall turnaround.

The 67-65 win against Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 31 was the wakeup call Hoiberg said his team needed.

“The Mississippi Valley State game was a very important game for this team, in the meetings we had and the talks we had leading into conference play,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve learned from losses. We’ve done a great job learning from wins, even though sometimes it’s hard to learn from a win because guys are satisfied.”

For White specifically — the team’s leader in points (13.5), rebounds (9.3), assists (4.2), steals (1.2) and blocks (1.2) per game — his passing and getting teammates involved has been something fans have wondered about, given his 6-foot-8-inch, 270-pound frame and ability to score.

White, though, said, “I like assist better than points. I’d rather help a basket out than score myself,” and his coach praised his ability to get teammates involved.

Along with the confidence and guys accepting roles, that kind of unselfish play has been something the Cyclones have hung their hat on in recent games.

“It comes from a camaraderie thing,” White said. “Chemistry is just real high on our team. It starts with the leaders, and the lead guys are unselfish, and it trickles down. It’s a program thing; it’s from top to bottom.

The Cyclones carry that confidence and “camaraderie” into a matchup with Oklahoma State, a team that very nearly left Hilton Coliseum with a win on Jan. 18, had it not been for a Scott Christopherson buzzer-beater.

“They’re playing very good basketball,” Hoiberg said of the Cowboys, who beat No. 4 Missouri after the loss in Ames. “Even though they don’t have a lot of depth, it’s a team that plays very hard and will always have a chance because of the way they play.”

Iowa State tips off against Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Stillwater, Okla.