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Basketball

Monté Morris: “This is our tournament”

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 KANSAS CITYMonté Morris and Matt Thomas have discussed the fact that they’re 6-0 in the Big 12 Tournament and two-for-two in terms of championships.

 The upshot of the conversation?

 Iowa State’s starting guards are only halfway to their planned, Sprint Center-based personal peak.

“With us winning for so long here, it just makes us want to be more hungry and try to stay victorious at the top,” said Morris, who expects to receive a cortisone shot before the 8 p.m. quarterfinal tip with Oklahoma at the Sprint Center to aid his ailing right shoulder. “Try to set our own trend and just know that Iowa State, this is our Big 12 tournament. Kansas usually wins the conference outright, but we look at it like this is our tournament.”

 **Count on tense drama — as in can the medication allow Morris to play at his usual high level?

 He says, ‘Yes,’ and it’s unwise to doubt the elite point guard.

 “They’re going to probably numb me up before the game and I’ll be able to do a range of motion, fully extend,” said Morris, whose corner 3-pointer last season against Texas ignited ISU’s tromp through the tournament. “Right now I can’t fully extend all the way through, so it’s kind of a push at the end of it just to get it up there, but it still felt good, so I’m not really worrying about that.”

 **Drum up the cacophonous crowd noise — as in the 10,000-plus Cyclone fans who will turn the Sprint Center into another high-decibel version of Hilton Coliseum.

 “They call this place Hilton South,” Thomas said. “I think our fans are a big reason why we’ve had success here.”

 **Bring on the best of the Big 12 — as in six-seeded ISU’s potential 3-2-1 on-the-court countdown through the higher-seeded Sooners, West Virginia and Kansas.

 “This place has been great to me,” said All-American forward Georges Niang, who scored 54 points in last season’s Big 12 tournament sweep. “I’m excited to get out here and get things rolling.”

 So is Morris, who was held out of Wednesday afternoon’s practice because of the rotator cuff strain he sustained in the regular season-closing loss at Kansas. If he’s not close to 100 percent tomorrow night, he’ll act as if he is.

  “That kid’s a warrior,” Niang said. “I know if he’s tweaking or hurting, he’s going to sacrifice whatever he has going just to help the team. I’m nt worried about him.

 And even if his shoulder doesn’t fully respond by game time, he can help the Cyclones in a myriad of ways that don’t involve shooting the basketball (much).

 He is, after all, the two-time reigning national leader in assist-to-turnover ratio.

 “I’m not going to play him to a fault if he’s really hurt,” said ISU coach Steve Prohm, who will coach in his first Big 12 Tournament game against the Buddy Hield-led Sooners. “I’m not going to do that, but he can impact a game and not score. He can get 12 assists and not shoot and we can be really good. So he can play that way as well. Obviously when he’s playing at a high clip and scoring in that 18 to 22 range, we’re really good. I don’t know if we’ve been beaten when he’s playing at that level, but his game isn’t based on scoring.”

 That’s true for him, but not applicable when comparing the Cyclones’ and the Sooners’ elite offenses.

 KenPom.com rates ISU’s adjusted offensive efficiency at 121.2. Only Michigan State (122.0) is higher. Oklahoma sits 18th in adjusted efficiency (116.0) — and split a pair of fast-paced regular season matchups with the Cyclones.

 “If you really let them get into a rhythm,” Niang said. “You’re in for a long night.”

 The key, as always, is defense. One or two more stops — or one or two offensive rebounds prevented — likely will determine if Morris and Thomas move to 7-0 here, or Hield and Co. avenge last season’s two-point semifinal loss instead.

 “We have the best conference in the country,” Niang said. “Every game is going to be a war.”

 The drama’s real. The crowd noise matters. The next journey beckons and hunger pangs trump shoulder pain in the Grand Boulevard-based scheme of things. 

 “We have a ton of support and that’s something me and Monte talked about, especially after we won last year,” Thomas said. “We’re like, ‘We want to do this every year. We can do this four times. This is our third year here. We’ve just got to go take care of business.’”

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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