Takeaways: Giveaways and defense are the focus in a series sweep

Iowa State guard Jaden Walker surveys the court against Kansas. Walker came away with 14 rebounds Feb. 13, however the Jayhawks defeated the Cyclones 64-50.

Zane Douglas

Thursday and Saturday were tough days for Iowa State, who fell to 0-11 in the Big 12 Conference after two straight losses to the Kansas Jayhawks.

The Kansas and Iowa State rivalry has been a notable matchup in Big 12 history, but this season was much different, as Iowa State suffered its second straight season toward the bottom of the Big 12 and Kansas has dropped out of the top 25 rankings.

That doesn’t mean one of the two games wasn’t intriguing, with the Cyclones putting up a good fight in Ames after a big loss in Lawrence, Kansas, just two nights before.

Defensive improvement

The biggest improvement Iowa State made by far between its 97-64 loss to Kansas and its 64-50 loss to Kansas was on the defensive end of the floor.

Not only did Kansas score 33 less points in the second matchup with Steve Prohm’s group, but their shooting percentages took a nosedive thanks to a cold shooting night and a renewed defensive intensity from Iowa State.

Prohm said Saturday’s defense was the best his team has played.

“I thought we played with a lot of pride and a lot of grit in that first half,” Prohm said. “That first 20 minutes I thought we really competed the right way and really, really got into them and made ’em uncomfortable and I was proud.”

Prohm talked about needing to “bottle that [defense] up” and said the best way to do so is buying in and being consistent with assignments and the scouting report.

The first game between the two teams wasn’t good, but the improvement was huge between the two games to make things closer.

The Jayhawks shot 52.8 percent in the first game including 46.2 percent from three. Those percentages took a huge hit Saturday as the Jayhawks shot just 35.8 percent and 30.4 percent in the same categories, respectively.

The increased intensity was even more apparent in the first half, where Iowa State held the Jayhawks to just 24 points.

Free possession giveaway

The Cyclones defense improved a ton; Iowa State shot better overall, from 3-point distance, from the free-throw line (where it also attempted more free throws) and the Cyclones even out-rebounded the Jayhawks.

So what went wrong? For Iowa State it’s nothing new. In fact, it has been a thorn in the side of the team this season: turnovers.

A staggering 23 turnovers for Iowa State turned what could’ve been a massive win against a superior opponent into a 14-point loss and another game marching toward a winless conference season.

It wasn’t all Iowa State’s fault in this one. Kansas played solid defense and forced many of the turnovers. Prohm echoed that after the game.

“[The Jayhawks] make it tough on you,” Prohm said. “Obviously they’re very good defensively, but out of the 23 turnovers, when you say unforced obviously they have a lot to do with it, but probably about half of those are probably on us.”

But it was Iowa State’s ball-handlers who gave away the most possessions. Freshman Jaden Walker, who led the team in rebounds and assists with 14, a career high, and four respectively, turned the ball over six times with junior Rasir Bolton’s five turnovers not far behind.

These two players only combined for four assists, all from Walker, while the rest of the team followed suit.

The result was a nightmare first half, where the Cyclones had a chance to pull away, but instead ended the half tied at 24-24 because of 15 turnovers in just 20 minutes.

Iowa State’s 23 giveaways tied for the most in the Prohm era and it was 13 more turnovers than the Cyclones surrendered two days earlier in a blowout loss to the same team.

Lineup taking shape

When COVID-19 hit Iowa State, it made the team miss four games but then also made it play multiple games below full strength, including a couple where the team had less than 10 players active.

With new faces starting, Iowa State was able to get an extended look at some players. While some of those guys seemed to earn extra minutes, some took a backseat as full strength returned.

An example of someone who earned extra minutes is Walker, who was forced into the starting lineup but has been one of Iowa State’s best defenders, rebounders and playmakers of late.

On the other side, junior guard Tyler Harris has seen his minutes drop with players like guard Jalen Coleman-Lands excel in the same role as him and players like Walker eat up minutes.

Walker played 29 and then 39 minutes against Kansas and was an integral part for the Cyclones in both.

Harris, who started the year way ahead of Walker in the rotation, played 16 minutes and then 10, the latter of which only saw him come in for two stints when players were in foul trouble.

Prohm’s hand has been forced by Walker, who has become one of the most important players on Iowa State’s roster.