MBB: Disappointment continues for Cyclones

Iowa State’s Craig Brackins attempts to get past Texas A&M’s Ray Turner on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. The game was Iowa State’s sixth straight loss. Photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s Craig Brackins attempts to get past Texas A&M’s Ray Turner on Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. The game was Iowa State’s sixth straight loss. Photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Chris Cuellar – Daily Staff Writer

Frustration seems to be the word of choice around men’s basketball coach Greg McDermott’s team this week.

Suffering through a six game losing streak, forward Craig Brackins’ shooting woes and the seven total bench points that were scored in the last three games could all be classified as frustrating. Falling under .500 Saturday after dropping nine of their last ten games, the Cyclones are staring at a week with Big 12 opponents Nebraska and Colorado — the only two teams that Iowa State has beaten in the conference schedule.

“I think we might be pressing a little bit, I think everybody’s frustrated, we’ve been real close for a couple weeks and I think we’re ready to break through here and get a win,” said sophomore guard Scott Christopherson.

The pressure of winning can cause teams and players to crack (see: Darius Washington, Jean van de Velde), and the weight has gotten heavy on the shoulders of the Cyclones. The only two Iowa State scorers to average double digits, Brackins and senior forward Marquis Gilstrap, shot 21-percent and 29-percent in the last two games. Losses don’t have asterisks next to them in conference standings, saying ‘almost,’ but Iowa State lost last week by five, and four points to two tournament bound teams. Just how close are they?

“Too close,” Brackins said. “It’s sickening how close. We put so much into it and you think back, ‘Are we working hard enough?’ We kill ourselves, we limp out of here, we’re fighting. It’s just so close and I think it’s mental for us, the little stuff that we do that we’re not executing.”

Struggling to put together 40 minutes with constant focus and execution has been the Cyclones’ calling card all season, resulting in the tough shots from Brackins and defended shots from the three point shooters. Iowa State shot 30.7 percent from behind the arc during the six-game losing streak.

“I don’t think it’s because they’re selfish,” McDermott said. They’re just trying to make a play for their team. We’re struggling scoring, and it’s been a few possessions since we’ve scored and they want to take it upon their own shoulders to go and make a play to get the team back right. You need some of that, but in those situations, more times than not you’ve got to make the extra pass.”

McDermott remained optimistic that the hard work the team was putting in meant that his squad was staying positive, instead of letting the losses linger. The coach said that his players put in a strong practice Monday, but needed to be prepared for Nebraska and Colorado this week. The two teams occupy the tenth and twelfth spot in the Big 12, but sitting in the cellar doesn’t make them easy opponents.

Both Nebraska and Colorado hung around with Kansas and the other top teams in conference play; Colorado was able to squeak out wins against Baylor and Oklahoma, and Nebraska’s only conference victory was over Oklahoma.

Iowa State can take comfort in the knowledge that it has beaten both teams, but not having won a game in the month of February, the team knows it needs to improve. Team leader Brackins is putting the burden on his shoulders.

“I shoot maybe 200 or 300 shots a day, so maybe I try 400 or 500 now. That’s what I was thinking, too, maybe what I’m doing just is not enough. I’ve worked twice as hard this year as last year, and I’m still a little off so, maybe a little more work,” Brackins said.

In what could be a boost to the struggles behind the arc, Christopherson said Monday that he was feeling better and getting his energy back. The 6-foot-3-inch guard has averaged seven points per game in the Big 12 season, but battled mononucleosis for the past month.

“I’ve been able to get healthy. It’s definitely a good feeling, it was real frustrating for a while there, and I’m real excited for the next couple weeks,” Christopherson said.

Junior reserve forward LaRon Dendy saw action against Texas A&M on Saturday after McDermott sat him from the Oklahoma State game for what the coach felt was overstaying his trip for a family funeral. Dendy missed the Missouri and Kansas games after extending his stay at home longer than the previously understood three days. McDermott put Dendy on the floor for four minutes against the Aggies Saturday, and said that Dendy’s complete return to action would likely be soon.

“He and I met yesterday again, and talked through some things. I like the progress he’s making. We’ll gradually work him back in the lineup,” McDermott said.

While technically unspecified whether Dendy was suspended or just benched, the 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds the transfer offered per game could improve the bench play for the Cyclones. The players understand their coach’s decision and await Dendy’s return.

“He’s been good in practice, he’s always fun to be around. He’s working hard and we are all respecting that. He’s doing what he has to do to get back some more minutes,” Brackins said.