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Basketball

Giving and taking: Monte Morris is adept at both

 AMES —  Forget his sterling assist-to-turnover ratio — for a while, at least. 

 Iowa State point guard Monte Morris has been there, done that, setting an NCAA record with a mark of 4.79-to-1 during last season’s Sweet 16 run.

 The 6-2 sophomore has also been dishing more than fumbling at an astonishing rate of 8-to-1 this season, but it’s his enhanced role as a denier, not simply an efficient and explosive distributor, that demands heightened attention.

 “I just might (have to) get in a little more shape,” Morris joked Tuesday night about expanded ball pressure duties.

 Morris, all kidding aside, had struck for a career-high five steals moments earlier in a 96-59 drubbing of Lamar.

 He enters today’s 8 p.m. top-20 matchup with No. 18 Arkansas (ESPN2) at Hilton Coliseum with seven steals to four turnovers in five games.

 So what’s changed for Morris — who as a freshman proved his mettle against several top scorers — on the defensive end?

 “Our defense is moreso shrinking and helping each other out, but now I see (Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg) wants me to get out and extend a little bit,” Morris said. “I think I can do it.”

 Translation: He can.

 And Morris not only has confidence in himself when it comes to on-the-ball pressure.

 He believes the whole team can become more disruptive on defense, regardless of the pace — fast or slow — teams choose to try to attack them with.

 “I would hope so,” he said. “We’re athletic enough and quick enough on our feet.”

 Needless to say, the Razorbacks (6-0) fall on the blazing-fast edge of that pace spectrum.

 They lead the country in assists per game (20.7) and rank fourth in scoring average (90).

 Three different players have scored at least 20 points in a game and eight in their rotation have reached double figures.

 “It’s a team playing with a ton of confidence,” said Hoiberg, whose 20th-ranked team (4-1) ranks 16th nationally in scoring (83.4) and third in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.86). We’re going to have to play well to win.”

 That proposition starts on the defensive end, with Morris on point.

 The key to excelling there remains staying out of foul trouble.

 Morris picked up his first foul 22 seconds into ISU’s 72-63 loss to Maryland last week and it hampered his ability to defend as strenuously as usual.

 “If I get an early foul, that’s when my defense will probably step back a step a little bit,” he said. “You don’t want to pick up that second one in the first half, but if I (avoid early foul trouble) I should be very aggressive out there on D.”

 That full-throttle mentality on both ends of the floor will be required all 40 minutes if the Cyclones — a seven-point favorite — are to emerge with the win.

 It’s just the third time in ISU history a non-conference game featuring ranked teams will be contested at Hilton Coliseum.

 “We can’t wait,” Morris said. “We could spend the night in the locker room and wait until (the game). That’s how anxious we are about it. We want to show the nation that against Maryland was a fluke.”

 So the pace thickens. According to Vegas.com, the over/under for points in tonight’s Big 12/SEC Challenge game is set at a, ahem, fairly conservative 160 1/2.

 “It should be nuts,” said Cyclone forward Georges Niang, who earlier today was named to the Naismith Award watch list. “Whenever we have a pretty good team coming in here the fans get crazy. We’re really excited to get back and play a (power five conference) school and show what we can do.”

R

Rob Gray

administrator

Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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