Once in the hunt for a Big 12 regular-season title, No. 23 Iowa State has sputtered over the past month.
Losses in three straight games and seven of nine entering West Virginia’s visit to Ames, Iowa on Monday leave the Cyclones thirsting not simply for a victory but also confidence.
“For our guys, our team,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said, “having more personal pride is really important. … Having pride to play hard every possession, having pride to finish plays, having pride to bring tremendous effort every single possession.”
Otzelberger sensed much of that was missing during Saturday’s 61-50 home loss to Oklahoma. After scoring 14 points in the first 7:07, the Cyclones (17-11, 8-8 Big 12) managed just 36 the rest of the way to finish with a season-low total.
Gabe Kalscheur (12 points) and Tamin Lipsey (10) were the only Cyclones in double figures. Iowa State shot 31 percent from the floor, including 26.7 percent (4-for-15) from long range.
“We had a lot of shots close to the rim, a lot of layups and things that we normally make,” Lipsey said. “We just couldn’t get them to fall tonight. But we love those shots and we’re going to come out and make those.”
Otzelberger challenged the Cyclones to improve at finishing plays at the rim while creating better off the dribble, but also to stay consistent at the other end of the floor.
“We can’t let our offensive disappointment affect how we defend,” he said.
West Virginia (16-13, 5-11) has lost four of five. The Mountaineers have lost four in a row on the road, all against ranked foes.
On Saturday, the Mountaineers battled host No. 3 Kansas down the stretch before losing 76-74. West Virginia took a 44-43 advantage early in the second half but was unable to fully recover after the Jayhawks stormed back ahead with a 7-0 run.
The Mountaineers had the ball in the closing seconds with a chance to tie — or take the lead with a 3-pointer — but turned the ball over.
West Virginia stayed afloat behind a balanced attack. Erik Stevenson (23 points), Tre Mitchell (20), Kedrian Johnson (15) and Emmitt Matthews Jr. (13) all finished in double figures.
Despite the setback, as well as the team’s sub-.500 league record, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins feels his team is a contender for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament next month.
“We have, far and away — it’s not even close — the best strength of schedule in the country. No question,” Huggins said. “If that doesn’t mean something to the (tournament selection) committee, then shame on them. Not just that, but if you look at our scores, we deserve to be in the tournament. They give you all that (bunk) about playing a strong schedule, play a strong schedule. If they continue to tell you to do that then, by God, they better hold up their end of the bargain.”
West Virginia is shooting for a season sweep of Iowa State after edging the then-No. 11 Cyclones 76-71 on Feb. 8 behind 22 points from Johnson.
–Field Level Media