One last gasp: Iowa State looks to salvage season at Big 12 Tournament

Rasir Bolton celebrates after finishing a layup against No. 9 Oklahoma on Feb. 20 at Hilton Coliseum. 

Zane Douglas

There was no turning-point game this season for the Cyclones. There was no momentum shift in the middle of the season, a three- or four-game stretch of solid play. It wasn’t a pretty regular season for the Cyclones.

But they get to hit the reset button this Wednesday.

Iowa State will play No. 25 Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament with hopes to pick up its first win against a conference opponent and possibly make a run — something the Cyclones have done before at the Big 12 tournament.

“This is a great event,” Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm said. “For us to win it four of the last six years I think speaks volumes about our program.”

While Iowa State can put the whole season behind it before the tournament, it’s still a one-and-done scenario, so every game from here on out is a must-win for the Cyclones to keep their chances of a trip to the NCAA Tournament alive.

The hole is dug deep as well. Iowa State comes into the tournament as the No. 10 seed on a 17-game losing streak with just two overall wins — both against teams from the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

But against Oklahoma, the seven-seeded team in the Big 12 Tournament, Iowa State has had a couple solid games, losing by just 7 points on the road and then by 10 at home.

Cyclone guard Rasir Bolton led his team in scoring in both contests, but it came with inefficiency.

Combined in the two games, Bolton was 14-36 from the field with 35 points. His contributions from this season weren’t just limited to scoring, however. Bolton is leading his team in scoring (15.4 points per game), rebounding (4.9 per game), assisting (3.9 per game) and stealing (1.3 per game).

His importance to the team has been shown after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

Prohm’s Cyclones have scored just 55 points per game in the last two games, and the point guard combination of Tyler Harris and Javan Johnson have accounted for 14 assists on their own in those two games.

Harris and Johnson filled in for Bolton and were playing out of position, which was evident, especially with Harris, who had six turnovers in a 5-point loss to Kansas State on Saturday.

“I think the next couple days will determine that, but I would think he’ll be able to play some,” Prohm said about how close to full strength Bolton would be Wednesday.

Bolton’s possible availability isn’t the only positive that has come from Iowa State recently, with one player turning in more effective minutes.

That player is George Conditt IV. The junior forward was having a rough season until recently, when a switch turned on and his defense ramped up. He also gave Iowa State another solid offensive option down low, where he’s improved throughout the year.

He hasn’t played a ton in the last two games, but against Texas, Conditt turned in 22 minutes with 11 points and five rebounds off the bench. Three of those rebounds were on the offensive end, and he also added a block, steal and assist to the mix.

Given how the Sooners and Cyclones play small-ball, Conditt’s ability to anchor the post more effectively could come in handy if the Cyclones want to advance in the tournament.

On Oklahoma’s side, it’s all Austin Reaves, who mirrors Bolton in leading his team in points (17.4 per game), rebounds (5.7 per game) and assists (4.9 per game).

Reaves played well in his two games against the Cyclones this season, including a late-game 3-pointer at Hilton Coliseum that sealed the victory.

Should Iowa State win, the Cyclones will have to face No. 11 Kansas, who is the two seed in the tournament. A win in that game as well would pit Iowa State up against the winner of a game between No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 13 Texas.

The Cyclones won’t escape any ranked teams in the tournament unless they face Kansas State or TCU in the conference championship, so it’s an uphill battle. But in Kansas City where the tournament is played, Prohm is confident that anything can happen.

“If you want a chance to play in the postseason, everybody gets one,” Prohm said. “I’ve been a mid-major coach for a long time before coming here, whether it was an assistant or head coach. There’s nothing more nerve-wracking than playing in those conference tournaments, ’cause it’s all on the line.”