Stingy defense carries Iowa State into Sweet 16

Wisconsin guard Brad Davison (34) tries to split Iowa State guard Izaiah Brockington (1) and forward Aljaz Kunc (5) during the second half in their second round game of the 2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Sunday, March 20, 2022 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wis. Iowa State beat Wisconsin 54-49.

MILWAUKEE — For the sixth time in program history, the Iowa State Cyclones are headed to the Sweet 16.

This Cyclone team got it done in a decidedly unique fashion, using a suffocating defense and some timely shooting to defeat Wisconsin 54-49. 

Iowa State enters play Friday night against 10-seed Miami as an 11 seed, the highest such mark in program history to survive past the first round.

Wisconsin shot just 30 percent from the field and was forced into 17 turnovers, a number which had Badger head coach Greg Gard shaking his head in disbelief as he stared at the stat sheet directly after the game in the catacombs of the Fiserv Forum. 

Cyclone head coach T.J. Otzelberger, who was able to celebrate the victory in his hometown, was understandably elated with his team’s performance. 

“I’m so proud of the young men in our program and everyone who came out to support us,” Otzelberger said. “Our guys have done a great job of embracing the work habits that we set before them. They started in June, carried on into September and we kept talking about it all season in our huddles. 

“Let’s embrace our habits, and tonight our guys certainly did that. It was a great team win and I’m excited for what’s next.”

Senior guard Gabe Kalscheur shook off a rough performance in the first round against LSU to be Iowa State’s star Sunday night. 

Kalscheur led the Cyclones with 22 points on 10-for-19 shooting and also helped put the clamps on Wisconsin star Johnny Davis, who was held to 17 points on 4-for-16 shooting. 

Kalscheur, who has plenty of familiarity with the Badgers after transferring to Iowa State from Minnesota, didn’t mince words when discussing Sunday night’s opponents. 

“I’ve never liked Wisconsin, to be honest,” Kalscheur said. “I have family from there, but I’m a Minnesota-raised man. it fueled my fire for sure.”

Beyond Kalscheur, Sunday night was a slog for the Cyclones offensively. Tyrese Hunter and Izaiah Brockington, the two weapons that carried Iowa State in the first round, combined to go 5-for-25 from the field and commit seven turnovers. 

On the flip side, Hunter led the club with five assists and three steals and provided his usual bulldog defensive performance. 

A key moment in the game occurred late in the first half, when Wisconsin point guard Chucky Hepburn contested a Hunter layup and rolled his ankle on the way down, finishing him for the game. 

A rotating crew of unnatural PG’s followed Hepburn, greatly contributing to Wisconsin’s dysfunction. 

“I feel bad for Chucky but we didn’t see any aggressive play from their point guard operation after he went down,” Brockington said. “It made a big difference.”

The Cyclones entered halftime with a 27-26 advantage and trailed just once, after Wisconsin scored the opening points, in the second half. 

They extended the advantage to 50-40 on a Jaz Kunc trey with 4:18 to play and never let the Badgers get closer than four points thereafter.

“It’s unbelievable,” Brockington said of the team’s incredible turnaround after a 2-22 season. “To think of this team where we started in June, so knew to each other, going out there with the object of getting all the wins that we could. To end up here, it’s a blessing.”

The Cyclones will keep dancing, and that’s a true blessing for all of Cyclone nation. 


Josh Flickinger