Dec 29, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats forward Dean Wade (32) splits the defense of Iowa State Cyclones forward Solomon Young (33) and Iowa State Cyclones guard Lindell Wigginton (5) in the second half at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Wildcats beat the Cyclones 91-75. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Terrible.
That’s the word Iowa State coach Steve Prohm settled on to describe his team’s Big 12 season-opening performance Dec. 29 against Kansas State.
Then, he elaborated.
“Defensively, ball screen defense, every area, we were bad,” said Prohm, whose last-place Cyclones (13-12, 4-9) aim to demonstrate dramatic improvement in Saturday’s noon rematch in Manhattan. “We scored it early. We scored 50 points in a half and at home you should be up, probably 10, at least, if the pace of the game, you get 50. You can take that to where, ‘Hey, man. You don’t want to play like that again.’”
ISU let Dean Wade shine from every location on the Hilton Coliseum floor, whether from beyond the arc, popping short jumpers off a pick-and-roll, or simply getting to the rim.
Wade scored a career-high 34 points and unsurprisingly figures prominently in the Cyclones’ revamped, yet guarded defensive plans.
“We’ll change some things,” said Prohm, whose team seeks its first road win of the season against the fourth-place Wildcats (18-8, 7-6). “I’m not obviously going to say right now what we’re gonna do. That wouldn’t be smart, but yeah, we’ll have a couple different plans. We’re not going to have five plans. If plan A doesn’t work, plan B. But if you start getting to plans C and D then you’re in trouble anyway. We’ve just got to compete the right way and if we do that, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
There’s no question ISU’s played much better basketball since that 91-75 debacle that started a string of four straight conference losses.
They’ve defended better, especially during a four-game home court win streak Kansas clipped Tuesday, 83-77.
They’ve flowed better on offense, even as knee tendinitis caused point guard Nick Weiler-Babb to miss four games.
They even had a decent shot late against the Jayhawks, despite leading scorers Lindell Wigginton and Donovan Jackson shooting a combined 4-for-21 from the floor.
So they’re markedly improved — just not good enough to close out games, especially on the road, just yet.
“The first game was definitely a rough patch for us,” said Cyclone forward Solomon Young, who’s battling cartilage issues in his knee. “We’re a better team now and we’ve got an opportunity to show it this Saturday.”
Jackson hasn’t suffered through back-to-back single-digit scoring efforts since mid-November.
Kansas clearly made him a defensive focal point Tuesday and held him to 1 of 9 shooting. He vows to avert such a performance against K-State.
“I wasn’t playing like myself,” Jackson said. “It was kind of hard. They took me out of the game a little bit, but I’m going to bounce back.”
If that’s to be true team-wide for ISU, Cameron Lard must continue to excel on both ends of the floor.
He grabbed a team-best nine rebounds in 22 minutes in the previous meeting with K-State, and has since emerged as one of the best — if not the best — rim runner among big men in the league.
Lard’s averaging 18.5 points over the past four games and has posted six of his eight double-doubles since the setback to the Wildcats. He can help contain Wade, but K-State’s a multi-dimensional threat with streaky guards such as Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes attacking the lane and dropping in occasional 3-point shots, as well.
“We just, we’ve got to take this game in front of us and max it out from a standpoint of they’re playing really well,” Prohm said. “They beat Oklahoma State pretty good last night. Shoot, I think they’re, what, fourth in the league. They’re good. Wade’s good. Brown’s good. (Cartier) Diarra’s now playing really good in his role. They defend you. Offensively, they can make shots. They all make free throws. We just need to go win a big game. We’ve been close. I just want to see us be able to finish.”
And to replace that “terrible” and “no-show” game with a performance worthy of pleasant — perhaps even glowing — descriptive terms.
“We’ve improved a lot more from that first game,” Jackson said. “Hopefully we can get the win down there.”