AMES — He takes a chip here, an elbow there.
But as Iowa State defensive stopper Chris Babb bounds and weaves by screen after screen he rarely gets lost.
It’s nonetheless lonely and taxing being a lockdown perimeter defender — and particularly pressure-packed when the onerous task hinges on containing Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder.
“It takes all aspects,” said Babb, who again looks to slow down the No. 13 Wildcats’ leading scorer in Saturday’s 5 p.m. ESPN2-televised Big 12 game at Manhattan, Kan. “Coming off of screens — when he catches it, you really have to do a good job playing on ball defense with him, the way he can shoot it, the way he can take you off the dribble.”
There’s danger and opportunity Saturday for the Cyclones (16-6, 6-3), who seek their second straight regular season sweep of K-State (18-4, 7-2), but are 1-3 away from home.
“You’ve got to prove you can win on the road,” ISU forward Melvin Ejim said.
The Wildcats are tied with recently-proved mortal Kansas atop the league standings.
ISU and Oklahoma State are knotted at third place.
“The league is wide open,” Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It couldn’t be a better opportunity for us.”
Babb approaches each matchup with McGruder the same way.
McGruder, who averages 14.6 points, scored a combined 24 last season when facing Babb — the second-lowest total he managed against a conference team.
In ISU’s 73-67 win over the Wildcats two weeks ago, McGruder scored 13 points and lost a conference season-high four turnovers.
Babb also played all 40 minutes of that game, as did McGruder.
“I don’t really think about it until after the game,” Babb said of no rest. “Then it kind of hurts.”
Physically, not mentally.
Previously rare breathers for Babb have materialized since, courtesy of reinstated point guard Bubu Palo.
“He’s just such a smart defender,” Hoiberg said of Palo, who has eight assists and one turnover in 57 minutes played. “He knows when he can go in there and dig, he knows when he can help and still recover out to his player — who’s normally a shooter. He continues to be that guy that goes in and just makes the right plays. … So it gives you depth, it gives you options. It gives our guys an opportunity to get rest, again, where you’re fresher down the stretch, and that’s very important in those last couple minutes of a game.”
It’s vital to the Cyclones’ second-half push toward the top of the standings, two.
Babb’s hit 9 of 14 3-pointers the past three games — and didn’t play 40 minutes in any of them.
Saturday, he’ll forgo anything beyond dead-ball rests again if it’s required, which often is the case when tailing McGruder.
“I’m probably more sick of running through all those screens he comes off of,” Babb said. “This will probably be the last time we see each other for a while.”
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