ISU men’s hoops set for a rematch with Kansas State


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

Twenty wins is a nice accomplishment, especially when it’s happened for just the sixth time in program history.

But for the ISU men’s basketball team, “nice” isn’t good enough.The final three games, starting with Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., represent three big hurdles over which the Cyclones must jump to reach the real accomplishment they’ve set out for: the NCAA Tournament.

“At this point, [the final three games] could make us or break us,” said forward Royce White. “Just depending on how we deal with all three games as a group. We’ve just got to take things one at a time.”

Guard Chris Babb echoed his teammate’s sentiments on the importance of the final three games.

Babb called the matchups with Kansas State, No. 3 Missouri and No. 13 Baylor one of Iowa State’s hardest stretches of the season.

“I think it’s one of our toughest stretches of the season,” Babb said. “But we’ve just got to come out and keep playing our game, stay poised in these two road games, stay consistent, stay confident in each other and trust our team.”

Babb took the words right out of coach Fred Hoiberg’s mouth. Staying on the track that the team has set itself on throughout the season is paramount for the Cyclones.

The reason, Hoiberg said, is because he doesn’t want to fix something that isn’t broken.

“We’re going to keep our approach the way it’s been,” Hoiberg said. “It’s been successful for us. We’ll go to Kansas State and try to put a great game plan together. Any team that goes to Kansas State knows how hard it is to win.”

With the trip to face Kansas State, the Cyclones have a chance to hit yet another milestone in a season full of them. Should Iowa State complete the season sweep of the Wildcats, it would be the fourth team the Cyclones have swept on the season — Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma being the others — in Big 12 play.

The last time an ISU team did that was 2001.

Last time out, Iowa State beat Kansas State on a floater from the baseline from White in the closing seconds. Hoiberg said a lot can be taken from that game to apply towards Saturday’s matchup.

“They’re such a tough team; so physical,” Hoiberg said. “We use [the last game] a lot [for preparation]. [We found] certain things that were successful for us and certain things that we might’ve had in our game plan that didn’t work so well.

“I’ve watched that game twice since we’ve played them. We’ll put the game plan in with some tweaks, and hopefully go out there an execute it.”

Part of the plan in the last game, White said, was to not let the Wildcats’ physical nature of play intimidate them.

The sophomore said it was a concern then, and that the Cyclones learned something about themselves that night in Hilton Coliseum.

“We learned that we’re pretty tough too,” White said. “Even though Kansas State has the mentality of being tough, when we understand who we’re playing, we can match that game plan.”

That toughness, led by coach Frank Martin, has carried with the Wildcats whether they play at home or on the road.

Hoiberg said he knows that all too well, and will have his team prepared for another physical battle on Saturday.

“It doesn’t matter what building they’re playing in,” Hoiberg said. “If you’re playing them out in a park, they’re going to be physical and hitting you and grabbing you and all the things they do. They’re great at it.

“You have to handle it the right way. You’ve got to go in there with the right mindset, and you can’t get frustrated if you have a poor stretch.”

Iowa State and Kansas State tip off at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday at Bramlage Coliseum in Manhattan, Kan.