AMES, Iowa (AP) Last season's Big 12 tournament title was a watershed moment for Iowa State. It was the first time that the promise shown by coach Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones had culminated in a championship.
They could soon add another trophy to their collection.
No. 13 Iowa State (22-8, 12-6 Big 12) enters this year's league tournament as one of the favorites as the second seed.
Iowa State, which won its last two games behind big second-half runs, opens against either Texas or Texas Tech on Thursday, with a potential rubber match against the Sooners looming in the semifinals.
''I like where we are right now. I like the last two games. I've liked the mentality of our team, obviously especially in the second half,'' Hoiberg said.
Iowa State's versatility and 3-point shooting, combined with the matchup issues presented by players like center Jameel McKay and forward Georges Niang, makes things extremely difficult for opposing defenses - especially with just a day to prepare.
But Iowa State hasn't been nearly as consistent on the other end of the floor.
The Cyclones' lack of defensive effort has cost them more than a few games this season. But after letting the Sooners build a 21-point lead last Monday, Iowa State held them to just 33 points in the second half and finished off what was arguably the best comeback in school history.
Iowa State slipped again in the first half against TCU on Saturday, only to rally with 63 points in the second half of an 89-76 win.
''We're going to have to play better. We're going to have to play 40 minutes of basketball if we want to make a run in Kansas City, if we want to make a run in the NCAA tournament,'' Hoiberg said.
Perhaps the most encouraging development in the win over the Horned Frogs was the re-emergence of Bryce Dejean-Jones.
The senior guard was benched in favor of Jameel McKay on Feb. 7. The new rotation clicked so tightly that Hoiberg kept using it.
Dejean-Jones has thrived at times in his new role as Iowa State's sixth man. But he also didn't play in the second half of the win over Oklahoma as Hoiberg stuck with the lineup whose 22-0 run doomed the Sooners.
If there was any frustration over being benched, Dejean-Jones didn't show it against the Horned Frogs. He scored 15 points, including 11 in the second half.
''He gets a lot of credit for his scoring. But when Bryce wants to, he can be a great defender. He can do a lot of different things,'' McKay said. ''When he's coming out and being aggressive, you can tell. He was just out there playing within himself and having fun.''
Iowa State used last season's Big 12 tournament run as a tuneup to the NCAA tournament, when it reached the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2000.
The Cyclones are hoping to use this week's trip to Kansas City as a springboard for an even more impressive run this season.
''Obviously it helped with our confidence to win the Big 12 tournament,'' Hoiberg said. ''It goes to a whole new level when you do win the conference tournament. But at the same time, playing three games in three nights takes a lot out of you. You've got to get your bodies back. You've got to get your focus back.''
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