DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — After beating Colorado at home last week, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg praised his team for playing with passion and energy through loss after heartbreaking loss.
Hoiberg also couldn’t help lamenting what could have been.
The Cyclones (16-15, 3-13 Big 12) won just three league games all year, all at home. But they lost two games by one point: at Nebraska in the Big 12 opener and to Kansas State on Jacob Pullen’s layup with two seconds left. They dropped two more in overtime.
Iowa State ended the regular season with two wins in three games, beating Nebraska and the Buffaloes to give the 12th-seeded Cyclones a boost of confidence following a 10-game losing streak. They play in Wednesday’s Big 12 tournament opener, a rematch with Colorado (19-12, 8-8).
“I’m excited with the way we’ve found a way to close out a couple of games at the end of the season, a couple of close games that could have gone either way,” Hoiberg said. “When you win those close ones, you can see it in your player’s faces that they believe they can win those.”
Iowa State has proven that, for the most part, it can compete with almost anyone in the Big 12. Doing so on back-to-back days in the conference tournament rather than just twice a week could prove to be a much tougher challenge.
The program’s massive roster turnover last offseason left Hoiberg with few viable options beyond his starting five, so he’s played with a very short bench all season.
Four Cyclones have played at least 31 minutes a game in Big 12 play, and senior point guard Diante Garrett and fellow guard Scott Christopherson have each played over 38 minutes a night in league action.
Iowa State might have to lean on Garrett, Christopher, guard Jake Anderson and forward Jamie Vanderbeken even more than that if it gets past Colorado to play Kansas State again in the quarterfinals.
“I love how hard our guys have competed all season long,” Hoiberg said. “There’s been certain nights where we just haven’t had the manpower at the end of the game to compete. But these guys have gone out there — as a coach, that’s all you can ask of your team. Just go out there and play as hard as possible and give your team a chance to win. That’s been the case with this group of guys.”
Iowa State hasn’t won a Big 12 tournament game since 2005, and it’s never been the bottom seed before, either.
If the Cyclones want to break that losing streak, they might have to shoot as well as they did in beating Nebraska and Colorado.
Iowa State had five players score in double figures and shot 50.9 percent from the field in an 83-82 overtime win over the Huskers on Feb. 26. The Cyclones then shot 70 percent in the second half against the Buffs in a 95-90 victory.
Iowa State lost its shooting touch in Saturday’s 67-55 loss to the Wildcats, going just 4 of 23 from 3-point range.
“They’re playing with confidence right now. We had two very good offensive performances against Nebraska and Colorado to finish out our home season, and went down to Kansas State and had a very poor shooting day,” Hoiberg said. “The reason we hung around is we matched their physical play, which is what Kansas State hangs their hat on.”
Big 12 Conference
At The Sprint Center
Kansas City, Mo.
Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State, 11:30 p.m.
Colorado vs. Iowa State, 2 p.m.
Baylor vs. Oklahoma, 6 p.m.
Missouri vs. Texas Tech, 8:30 p.m.