By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
AMES — It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but is there really such thing as an "ugly" 18 point conference win?
Iowa State trailed Texas Tech by four at the break on Wednesday night, but the Cyclones played arguably their most dominating defensive half of basketball this season in route to a 72-54 blowout over the last place Red Radiers.
For only the third time in school history, Iowa State reached the 20-win mark in the month of February. The only other times that has happened came in 2000 and 2001. Those were decent seasons right? (Sarcasm ALERT, sarcasm ALERT.)
With three regular season games remaining, Iowa State is tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12. For a team that was picked to finish eighth in the league, that’s pretty good. But after last night’s victory, the tone coming from Iowa State’s locker room was very methodical. The message was clear. Nobody in that program is happy at 20 wins.
“It’s a piece. I think that you can’t lose focus of what we want to do. We’re still not there yet as far as the goals that we’ve set forward," said sophomore Royce White. “We’ve got to stay focused. Our goals are much bigger than 20 wins. To reach those goals is going to be really tough.”
Earlier in the week, senior guard Scott Christopheron was quoted saying that Iowa State’s (then) potential 10 Big 12 Conference wins were more important than reaching that once magic overall number of 20. With last night’s win, Iowa State won 10 Big 12 games for only the fourth time in the league’s history – this coming in the league’s first season in playing a true round-robin schedule.
“This is one of the best leagues in the country," said White. "Texas Tech showed tonight in the first half that they weren’t going to come in here and lay down. From top to bottom, teams are solid and they’re playing good basketball right now.”
With a 10-5 league mark, the Cyclones should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament right?
Probably, but "lock" is way too strong of a word in this scenario. Brutal road trips to Manhattan and Columbia are looming. Baylor, who defeated Iowa State by 14 points a little over a week ago, will invade Ames for the regular season finale on March 3. The Cyclones will be underdogs in two of those games for sure – potentially all three.
The way things look right now, a date with Kansas State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City seems likely. It just so happens that the Wildcats (two straight road wins over Baylor and Missouri) are not only one of the Big 12’s hottest teams as March nears, but that can be said for entire world of college basketball as well.
By all means, the Cyclones are in very good shape at this point in the season. A fourth or fifth place finish in the Big 12 standings should be enough. But will anybody be too comfortable if Iowa State is riding a four-game losing streak on Selection Sunday?
Iowa State has defied the odds all season long. The next two weeks are going to be a wild ride.
— How was Royce White’s ridiculous throw it between the opponents’ legs/tomahawk jam not one of Sports Center’s "Top Plays" last night. I didn’t see the list itself, but rumor has it a soccer play made the cut over White’s highlight reel. Really? Soccer? Really?
— I’ve written a lot about this lately and rightfully so. Chris Babb’s defensive ability fascinates me. Texas Tech guard Ty Nurse went off for 15 in the first half last night. What happened in the second half to force Nurse to go 0-for-4 from the field? Chris Babb happened. Defense like that makes you forget all about his 0-for-6 night from the field. Babb has only scored in double figures once since Jan. 14 but he’s still one of the most valuable players on Iowa State’s roster.
— You’re currently witnessing the best basketball of Scott Christopherson’s career. Iowa State’s senior slinger is 9-for-14 from 3-point range in his last two games, scoring 25 and 17 along the way. Christopherson cleared the 1,000 point milestone in last Saturday’s win over Oklahoma. Right now, he’s sitting on 999 points while donning the cardinal and gold.
— You should have known this before last night’s game, but this Fred Hoiberg is too good to not print. Iowa State’s best offense is a good defense.
“They shoot 57 percent in the first half and we’re taking the ball out of the net and walking the ball up and down the floor," explained Hoiberg."In the second half, they shoot 34 and we get that rebound and we’re off and running. That’s definitely when we’re at our best, when we’re out in transition.”
For more Cyclone hoops chatter, tune into the Wilson Toyota Call-In Show tonight LIVE from Buffalo Wild Wings in Ames from 7-8 on Des Moines’ sports station, 1460 KXNO. Matt Abdelmassih and Billy Fennelly will join Tron Smith and me.