Niang healthy, Iowa State driven in Cyclones' NCAA return
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Fred Hoiberg remembers the moment as if it happened yesterday and not last year.
The Iowa State coach was preparing to be interviewed after the Cyclones' opening win in the NCAA Tournament when the trainer gave him the news that forward Georges Niang had broken a bone in his right foot, knocking him out of the rest of that postseason.
''It was hard to get through that interview,'' Hoiberg said Wednesday. ''It was emotional. Walking into the interview, I had to break the news to our guys about what had just happened. Georges probably played through more than anybody on the team, especially that time of year. So it was tough.''
The Cyclones managed to edge North Carolina only to lose in the Sweet 16 to eventual champ Connecticut.
Now they're back ranked ninth in the country and seeded third in the South Regional playing the 14th-seeded UAB Blazers on Thursday in Louisville. Niang is healthy and just helped lead them to their second straight Big 12 Tournament championship.
Hoiberg said his Cyclones (25-8) are very hungry to show this year will be different, especially coming off a big tournament run.
''Our guys that are back from that team worked all year to get back to this opportunity to try and put your team in a position to where you can compete for a championship,'' Hoiberg said.
Niang broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in that win against North Carolina Central. As part of his recovery, the 6-foot-8 forward also dropped about 25 pounds, and the junior leads the Cyclones with 15.5 points per game this season - third in the Big 12.
''It was extremely tough ...,'' Niang said of the timing of his injury. ''I'm just happy to be back here ready to compete with my team.
The Blazers (19-15) are the youngest team in the tournament and will be leaning on coach Jerod Haase. Even though this is his debut as a head coach here, this is his 18th appearance as either a player or assistant coach.
''He got us to this point, and we wouldn't be here without him,'' UAB guard Nick Norton said. ''Whatever he says, we'll do with no hesitation.''
Some things to watch Thursday:
FULL 40 MINUTES: The Cyclones know they can play their way back having won five straight despite trailing by double digits, including each game in the Big 12 tournament. They want to work on playing their best for the full game, not just short spurts. Guard Monte Morris said the Cyclones need to focus on the details down to shooting layups in warmups. Niang said they've had too many stagnant stretches on offense despite leading the Big 12 in scoring 79.3 points a game.
HEY I KNOW YOU: These coaches played against each other when Hoiberg was at Iowa State with Haase at Kansas in 1993-94 and 1994-95. Haase said he now sees the Cyclones mimicking their coach with their smart, tough play. Hoiberg returned the compliment, saying he's impressed with how Haase has helped his Blazers improve from a rough start this season.
DUSTIN HOGUE: When Niang was hurt a year ago, the 6-6 forward picked up the slack in a big way, scoring 34 points in the loss to UConn. Hoiberg calls Hogue their ''glue guy.'' The senior is shooting 56.5 percent from the floor and 43.8 percent from outside the arc even though he's averaging 9.6 points per game.
YOUTHFUL BLAZERS: UAB already was the third-youngest team in Division I coming into the season with a combined seven years of experience. The first tournament berth since 2011 for the Conference USA tournament champs, this will be the first tournament game for each of the Blazers including junior guard Robert Brown, who transferred from Virginia Tech.
LEARNING PAINS: This won't be UAB's first game against a Top 10 team this season. The Blazers lost to then-No. 2 Wisconsin 72-43 in November as the first of three losses in as many days in the Bahamas including Florida and UCLA.