No. 20 Cyclones preparing for familiar foe in Texas

Sophomore Cameron Lard and freshman Tyrese Haliburton react with excitement after senior Zoran Talley Jr. successfully gets a rebound within the final three minutes of the second half of the game against West Virginia. The Cyclones beat West Virginia 93-68 at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 30.

Aaron Marner

Iowa State and Texas haven’t played each other this season on the basketball court, but both teams know what to expect when the game tips off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hilton Coliseum.

For one, the Cyclones (16-5, 5-3 Big 12) and Longhorns (12-9, 4-4 Big 12) faced each other three times last season — twice in the regular season and once in the Big 12 Tournament.

On top of that, former Iowa State assistant coach Neill Berry is in his first year as an assistant coach for the Longhorns. Berry spent three seasons with the Cyclones, one as a special assistant to the head coach and two as an assistant coach.

“He’s known me for 20-something years,” said Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm. “He knows what we’re going to do.”

Prohm said that’s normal with the Big 12, thanks to its double round robin schedule in which every team plays everyone twice per season. Berry’s familiarity with the Cyclones and the players on the team will only elevate that.

For the Cyclones, redshirt sophomore Cameron Lard figures to be an important player. Texas is led by freshman forward Jaxson Hayes, whose 6-foot-11 frame has propelled him to average 11.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and a league-best 3.0 blocks per game in conference play.

“I don’t know much about him,” Lard said. “I’m just gonna go out there and play my game.”

In three games against Texas last season, Lard averaged 15.7 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. He had perhaps his best game of his freshman season with a 21-point, 16-rebound, 3-block performance in an overtime loss to Texas on Jan. 1, 2018.

“He’s played well against Texas in the past,” Prohm said. “Why that is, I don’t know. They’ve had tremendous big guys there … this will be a game where hopefully he can play well.”

Redshirt senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb has faced Texas four times in his Cyclone career, the last three of which have been losses.

In two games last season, Weiler-Babb averaged 12 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Weiler-Babb has scored 22 points (7-of-10 shooting) over the last two games, both of which were wins. The Cyclones seem to have found their stride offensively lately at the same time as Weiler-Babb — the team has scored 93 and 87 points in its last two games.

“We’ve just gotta keep moving the ball,” Weiler-Babb said. “We’re playing really well together as a team. Everybody’s giving up good shots to get great shots and I think our defense has turned into good offense in transition.”

The final wrinkle in this season’s games is a junior guard for the Longhorns who has Iowa State ties.

Texas guard Elijah Mitrou-Long might bring back memories for Cyclone fans. Mitrou-Long’s brother, Naz Mitrou-Long, spent five seasons in Ames from 2012-17 and left as the school’s second-most prolific 3-point shooter with 260 made threes.

Elijah Mitrou-Long also played against the Cyclones on Nov. 14, 2016, as a member of Mount St. Mary’s. He put up a team-high 19 points along with six rebounds and four assists, but Iowa State pulled away for a 73-55 victory.

“I think [Naz Mitrou-Long] said the other day he hopes Eli plays well and that we win,” Prohm said with a smile. “I think that’s what he was thinking.”