MBB: Iowa State aims to stay out of Big 12 cellar

ISU forward Craig Brackins looks back after a shot against Texas A&M on Saturday. Brackins and the Cyclones have lost six straight games. Photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

ISU forward Craig Brackins looks back after a shot against Texas A&M on Saturday. Brackins and the Cyclones have lost six straight games. Photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Chris Cuellar

The Cyclones had a 16 road game losing streak in the Big 12 when they met the Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-14, 1-11) in Lincoln on January 16.

Iowa State (13-14, 2-10) left with a three point victory. Coach Greg McDermott’s crew would like the Huskers to oblige yet again as his Cyclones are mired in a six game losing streak, and fighting to stay out of last place in Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday evening.

“Nebraska’s a tough team, they’ve got a great coach, and they don’t quit for him. It’s going to be a fight out there,” said Iowa State forward and leading scorer Craig Brackins.

Brackins’ season has been a roller coaster ride, and the junior is hoping for a big rise in the tracks soon. After starting off the season scoring more than 15 points in 11 of his 16 games, Brackins’ production dipped to start Big 12 play.

He found the shooting touch again in Iowa State’s last victory, over Colorado on Jan. 30, but is feeling the pressure of a sharp slide again, shooting just 7-for-33 in his last two outings. Upset after hitting just four field goals in 38 minutes of action against Texas A&M, Brackins says he was able to bounce back mentally.

“It just took my teammates to come to me and tell me, ‘I’ll have you take that shot every game if we’re down by two’, or down by however many. Hearing that picked me up and had me feeling good that my teammates are there for me,” Brackins said.

McDermott knows all about the slow pace and scrappy game that the Cornhuskers and their coach Doc Sadler employ against Big 12 opponents, and expects his shooters to be ready to take pressure off of Brackins.

“Doc always does a great job defensively of trying to take away your strength,” McDermott said. “He’s come after Craig before, and that’s when Lucca Staiger was on the floor, and my guess is that he’s really going to come after him now to try and get it out of his hands.”

Sophomore guard Scott Christopherson is the leading three point shooter for the Cyclones since the start of Big 12 play, and after battling mononucleosis for the last month, says he’s feeling better. He’ll likely need to be the release player that Brackins can find when the double team comes.

“They’re scrappy, they play hard, good defensive team. I bet they have the same feeling we do, they’re probably pretty hungry for a win,” Christopherson said.

The Cornhuskers like to take a tempo that truly suits their strength, with their average game score in Big 12 play coming out to a 71-60 defeat, and the team doesn’t have any of the conference’s top 20 scorers on the roster.

That doesn’t mean McDermott is overlooking the lack of potency the Huskers’ conference record shows.

“They’ve had games where they’ve had trouble scoring points. That certainly wasn’t the case at Kansas State, putting 87 points up on the board,” McDermott said. “They’re going to grind it, they’re going to try and establish an inside game, and defensively they do a terrific job of keeping you out of the paint.”

The Cyclones shot a season low 32.2 percent against Texas A&M on Saturday, and they’ll need a quick rebound from that against a Nebraska team that forces opponents to knock down open jump shots. Brackins hopes that’s what it takes to get his team back into the win column, and out of last place in the Big 12.

“I feel like we’re there, I feel like we’re clicking a lot, we just have a two minute let down where something went wrong. It’s that one little thing and we’re right there,” Brackins said.

Iowa State has beaten the Cornhuskers in Hilton Coliseum three straight times.