A regular-season Big 12 title has long since fallen out of the picture for Iowa State, but over the weekend the Cyclones started building the framework to finish strong and make a postseason splash.
With the re-appearance of some contributors who vanished during a lengthy rut, 21st-ranked Iowa State seeks its first winning streak this month and seventh win in a row over Oklahoma State when it closes its home schedule Monday night.
The knock all season on the Cyclones (20-9, 9-7) has been a lack of depth that shone clearly during a 3-5 stretch from Jan. 30-Feb. 22, thwarting their Big 12 title hopes while Kansas went on to secure its 12th straight.
Though all five starters average at least 10 points, Iowa State ranks 342nd of 346 Division I teams with 10.8 points per game off its bench - by far the worst mark in the Big 12. The average bench production, which would be Iowa State's lowest since the 2001-02 team's 7.8, dipped to 6.6 through the team's month-long lull.
But behind the re-emergence of a pair of key reserves, Iowa State improved to 13-2 in Ames with Saturday's 80-61 win over Kansas State. Jameel McKay and Hallice Cooke combined for all 24 bench points, the most for the Cyclones since scoring a season-high 30 against Coppin State on Dec. 30.
Cooke has averaged only 3.0 points in his first season with the Cyclones after transferring from Oregon State, but he surpassed his nine-point total from his previous 10 games - including four straight without a point - with 10 against the Wildcats.
McKay averaged 14.2 points and 9.2 rebounds in 16 games to open the season, but he lost his starting job earlier this month after returning from a two-game suspension for violating team rules. The senior forward looked rejuvenated Saturday in his second straight double-digit scoring game, posting 14 points and 17 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season and first since Jan. 6.
''My focus was as good as it's been all year. I just came out and wanted to play with energy,'' McKay said. ''I need people to know that I'm going to give 100 percent effort every time I'm on the court.''
Iowa State, which closes the regular season Saturday at Kansas, logged its sixth straight win over Oklahoma State with a 64-59 victory Feb. 6 in Stillwater. Georges Niang tallied 18 points and nine rebounds, but Cooke accounted for all three of Iowa State's bench points while McKay served the first game of his suspension.
Jeffrey Carroll had 18 points to lead the Cowboys (12-17, 3-13), though senior starter Jeff Newberry was held to two while freshman phenom Jawun Evans sat out his first game after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
The Cowboys, who have lost four straight and are 1-8 on the road, have struggled to score without Evans, another blow to a team that has played since mid-November without last season's second-leading scorer, Phil Forte, due to an elbow injury.
Oklahoma State has made 38.5 percent of its shots in its last seven games and averaged 58 points, fifth- lowest in the nation in that span.
''When you take your two best players off your team in this league, it's tough for anybody," coach Travis Ford said. "This league is just unforgiving. It's not excuses, it's reality."