AMES — Forget “Big Monday” — at least for several days.
No. 17 Iowa State is keenly focused on a smaller but still vigorous descriptive prefix for today’s Big 12 matchup with Kansas State at Hilton Coliseum.
“Bounce back Saturday,” summed it up for Cyclones point guard DeAndre Kane.
That approach for ISU began taking shape Sunday — a “players-only-meeting” day that followed a third straight loss.
“These guys care,” said Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team has won three of the past four games against the Wildcats. “They’ve got a lot of heart. They care about each other and that’s a great sign. When you have players that have that, you’re definitely a leg up because I don’t think everybody has that.”
Forward Georges Niang said convening the meeting was collectively agreed upon on the plane ride back from last Saturday’s 86-76 loss at Texas.
“It was just going over some film from the last couple games and seeing what we’ve been doing wrong and what we can actually work on as a unit,” said Niang, who scored a team-high 18 points against the Longhorns. “It was actually a ‘feel free to comment’ (thing), no coaches in there, and we just got a lot of stuff off our chest that we felt we needed to talk about.”
Specifics stay in the Sukup Basketball Complex, but regaining a confident, collective shooting stroke ranks among the top items.
The Cyclones have shot 26.3 percent or worse from 3-point range in three of five Big 12 games. And Kansas State ranks sixth nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense (26.7 percent).
“Man, they guard you,” Hoiberg said.
The balanced Wildcats have held 15 of their last 18 opponents below their season scoring average and feature bruising big man Thomas Gipson (12.5 points, 6.2) and versatile forward Shane Southwell (11.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists).
“Obviously, we’re going to have our hands full,” Niang said.
Hoiberg likes those hands, despite the recent struggles, and isn’t harping on the defensive, rebounding or shooting shortcomings while helping devise ways to fix them.
“It’s hard enough to play this game when everything’s going right, but if you have any type of doubt at all, it’s too hard to win,” Hoiberg said. “And our guys, they’re too confident. We’ve played great basketball this year and even the games we’ve lost, we’ve had really good stretches. Now it’s just a matter of sustaining those stretches for 40 minutes.”
Easier said than done with four straight ranked opponents directly on tap that includes a Wednesday trip to No. 11 Kansas and a “Big Monday” game at 12th-ranked Oklahoma State the following week.
But today could serve as a springboard, one that refocuses fans and players alike on a frame of reference broader than a three-game skid, or the unprecedented 14-game string of success that preceded it.
“Times get rough, but tough times don’t last for tough people,” guard Naz Long said.
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