Deficit-prone Iowa State readies for NCAA Tournament
AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State's knack for comebacks could come in handy in the NCAA Tournament, though the Cyclones would love to avoid dramatic finishes in the days ahead.
Third-seeded Iowa State (25-8) won last weekend's Big 12 tournament by erasing double-digit deficits in each game, including a 17-point hole in the title game against Kansas.
The Cyclones will face UAB (19-15) on Thursday in Louisville focused on getting off to better starts - while also emboldened by the belief that they can win no matter how bad things get.
''If we can get hot and keep the confidence going; that's I think the biggest thing in a three-day run like this is that it breeds confidence in your players. That they can battle through anything. That no lead is insurmountable,'' Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said after beating the Jayhawks.
Iowa State's recent play is proof of how vulnerable it can be at times.
The Cyclones are also remarkably resilient - and resilience is invaluable in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State's run of comebacks began in its home finale, when it erased a 21-point deficit with a 22-0 run that lasted less than six minutes. The Cyclones closed out TCU with a 63-point second half before rallying past Texas, Oklahoma and the Jayhawks in Kansas City.
Iowa State's ability to maintain an explosive yet relaxed style of play when facing large deficits is a tribute to its veterans.
Junior forward Georges Niang and sophomore point guard Monte Morris were crucial players on last season's Big 12 tournament title team. Juniors Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader and senior Bryce Dejean-Jones, all newcomers, followed their lead.
''I think it helped us in the Big 12 tournament that we were the defending champions, and you knew what it took to win three games in three days,'' Hoiberg said. ''To have guys that have been through this and know what it takes and the different things you have to deal with, the distractions and everything leading into this, is a tremendous help.''
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Iowa State as it heads to Louisville is that its best players are peaking.
Niang won Big 12 tournament Most Outstanding Player honors, averaging 18 points and four assists a game. Morris has gone 136 minutes without a turnover - a stat that's all the more remarkable given Iowa State's frenetic pace - and hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer against Texas. McKay is averaging 12.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in his last 12 games.
The Cyclones fell to a No. 3 seed because it lost eight games, many of those defeats coming because they let an opponent put them in a hole too deep to climb out of.
But that hasn't been a problem lately. Iowa State is outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points in the second half of its last five games.
I feel like we're built for this. We don't want to come back every time, but it just seems to keep happening to us. When our name gets called, we answer the bell,'' Niang said.
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP