LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The rose-colored version would be to say maybe its 87-71 NCAA tournament third-round loss to Kentucky here Saturday in KFC Yum! Center might work in Iowa State’s favor for next season.
Maybe Cyclone sophomore forward Royce White will have something gnawing in him, a feeling of unfinished business in his college career before testing the NBA waters.
Maybe the thought of having a true point guard (senior-to-be Korie Lucious, via Michigan State) and a true wing who can score and rebound (6-foot-7 senior-to-be Will Clyburn, via Utah) will tempt White to come back for another year and be on a team that can go to battle against a Kentucky without pushing uphill from the start.
The reality is, White is 20 years old, and 20-year-olds with NBA skills want to play in the NBA. Especially after they look so good playing against a pack of future NBA players, like forwards Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones.
“We’ll evaluate that,” said Hoiberg. “He played great, I’ll say that.”
“I’ll wait to see,” White said, “talk to Coach Hoiberg and see what he thinks.”
When top players say they’re going to think about it this late in the season, they’re usually not coming back.
Oh, well. White definitely did his part to lift the ISU program to higher ground in Hoiberg’s second season.
On CBS’ national platform from here, he surely showed he had NBA skills. Connecticut would tell you so, and so would Kentucky.
“Royce is Charles Barkley,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “He slow-dribbles you and then makes a move. He controls. He’ll pass.
“No, Charles would not pass. Let me restate that.
“But (White) plays with that kind of big hands and gets a head on the rim.”
White showed he could play with America’s No. 1 team and No. 1 front line. He played his game, not Kentucky’s. At least for the first 25 minutes or so.
White did to the Wildcats what he’s done to Kansas Jayhawks and Connecticut Huskies. He became a game’s most-dominant player, especially when ISU opened the second half with a 15-4 blitz to turn an 38-27 halftime deficit into a 42-42 free-for-all.
White had gone coast-to-coast for a jam to open the half’s scoring. He went coast-to-coast for a jam again two possessions later. He knifed for a basket, was fouled, and made a free throw. He fed Scott Christopherson for a 3-pointer.
Then Christopherson drove for a score, and it was 42-42.
Then, Kentucky played out of its minds, in a good way. Which is saying something for that team, because it operates at a sky-high level in most of its games.
A 34-10 run later, the Cats were up 76-52. And there was nothing White, who had 23 points, or the Cyclones could do about it.
The 3-point shots Iowa State thrived by this season were useless to them. ISU was 3-of-22, while Kentucky was an uncharacteristically crisp 10-of-20.
“They were 15-for-64 from the 3-point line the last five games,” Hoiberg said, “and they come out tonight and go 10-for-20. You take your hat off to them. They hit tough shots, hit shots with the shot clock running down.
“If they play like this, they won’t be beat. They were so good. When they’re hitting shots like that, they’re pretty much impossible to beat.”
“It’s not like, OK, we’ve got to make nine or 10 threes to win a game,” Calipari said. “We just don’t play like that. We haven’t played like that all year.”
But if ISU had just hit a few more threes … well, it would have made a cosmetic difference for sure, and maybe much more.
Then there was that little burden about the environment Iowa State faced. It could have gone all sour-grapey about playing Kentucky so close to its old Kentucky home.
“We’re going to walk out of Lexington – I’m sorry. Where are we? Louisville – with our head held high.” Hoiberg said.
But White and Hoiberg tipped their derbies to Kentucky, and rightfully so.
“That was a buzzsaw tonight,” Hoiberg said.
“(Marquis) Teague played a good floor game,” White said, “the best we’ve seen this year.”
Teague broke down the Cyclones down time after time with jumpers, drives, and set-ups. He had 24 points, 7 assists. The 24/7 line seemed fitting, because he never stopped.
“A pit bull,” Calipari called Teague. He also got some rather tenacious efforts from Doron Lamb (5-of-7 from 3-point land) and Darius Miller (Big jumpers throughout the game in scoring 19 points).
Class will tell, they say, and class told. The Wildcats’ celebrated freshman forward/certain first-team All-America, Anthony Davis, was outshone by White. But Davis, who was no slouch with 15 points and 12 rebounds, was surrounded with a cast who did what Iowa State normally does, which is make 3-pointers. Oh, the Cats did a lot more than that, too. But it shot with the confidence of a juggernaut that was 70 miles from home in front of 21,757 fans who were loudly and overwhelmingly pro-Cats.
If ISU wins a little more in the regular season and gets a higher NCAA seed than eighth, it will avoid things like playing Kentucky in Louisville or North Carolina in Greensboro. The Cyclones do have a coach, folks.
Hoiberg did about as good a job game-planning for ISU’s two games here as is possible. It definitely wasn’t strategizing that lost Saturday’s game. It was Kentucky’s abundance of talent.
That was Jim Calhoun and Calipari calling multiple timeouts here in short periods of time to try to halt Cyclone flurries here. They have a combined trillion victories, oodles of them in NCAA tourneys.
White became a Twitter trending topic for a short while in Saturday’s second-half. But you know what? So did Iowa State.