AMES — Choose your well-worn fallback term: Complacency, lack of urgency, faulty focus.
By any description, Baylor’s stirring comeback Wednesday at Iowa State demonstrated how quickly fortunes can change in the rugged Big 12:
- Up by eight one minute, down by six three and a half minutes later.
- One false move, one half-hearted closeout and suddenly the tide has turned.
“Strange things happen,” said Cyclone point guard Monté Morris, who had nine points and six assists in his 12-ranked team’s 79-70 loss to the No. 19 Bears at Hilton Coliseum.
They happen to everyone — even 10-time defending league champ Kansas, which ISU was poised to pull into a tie with atop the conference standings until Baylor went on a 25-8 run over the final 8:08.
The No. 8 Jayhawks fell, 70-63, Monday to left-for-dead Kansas State on the road and the Cyclones (20-7, 10-5) visit Manhattan for a pivotal 3 p.m. game on Saturday.
The Wildcats (14-15, 7-9) are 6-2 at home and 1-7 away from Bramlage Coliseum. They entered Monday’s upset having lost seven of their previous eight games.
“They have nothing to lose right now and everything to gain,” said ISU forward Jameel McKay, who scored a career-high 21 points in Wednesday’s loss.
Strange things indeed, but par for the course in the conference ranked No. 1 nationally in the RPI and Sagarin Ratings.
Just two teams have avoided back-to-back losses in Big 12 play: Kansas and ISU. It’s that resiliency that the Cyclones — who saw a 14-game conference home win streak snapped Wednesday — count on with three regular season games remaining.
“I don’t doubt this group,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ve bounced back from tough losses over the course of the season. We’ve got some learning to do from this last one.”
It’s a well-established fact that the Cyclones perform best when they’re doubted, dismissed or counted out.
Settling into any semblance of a comfort zone — save last year’s march to the Big 12 tournament title and first Sweet 16 appearance in 14 years — doesn’t always breed the same elite level of intensity.
“I think when our back’s against the wall, we play like our back’s against the wall,” McKay said. “When people expect us to do things, we don’t handle it the right way. So as a group, I think we need to handle success better.”
It’s a recurring theme that no team has been able to fully side step as the path to the March 11-14 Big 12 Championship narrows.
Kansas, for instance, has dropped two of three games after opening up a two-game lead in the standings. The Cyclones had won four of five — including their first consecutive conference road wins since 2006 — before Wednesday’s shocker.
“Obviously I don’t feel that great today,” said ISU forward Georges Niang, who scored 14 points Wednesday. “It’s obviously aggravating, but there’s still an opportunity on our hands to go out there and win the rest of our games. Saturday’s not going to be an easy one.”
Again, none of them are. ISU seeks to notch three straight Big 12 wins on the road for the first time since February, 2005.
“We want to get on the road and accomplish something,” Morris said. “We know in Manhattan it’s a real tough environment with them coming off an emotional win against Kansas. So we’ve just got to go in there and take great shots, keep our composure and get the job done.”
Doing that requires maintaining a sharp edge that never dulls during the course of however many minutes the rest of this still potentially special season contains.
“If we don’t have it now, after last night, then we’ll probably never have it,” McKay said of consistently playing with that defiant demeanor. “So I expect the rest of the season to go out with a chip on our shoulder, because now we’re playing for everything.”