Iowa St.-Texas A&M Preview
Iowa State has responded to matchups against stiffer competition by raising its play to another level.
Fresh off an emotional win over their chief conference rival, the 14th-ranked Cyclones now try to maintain that intensity when they attempt to knock off a third top 5 team in two weeks with Saturday's visit to No. 5 Texas A&M in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Faced with an early sense of urgency after a 1-3 start in the rugged Big 12, Iowa State has answered with four straight wins that include two of the conference's premier programs. One week after an 82-77 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma, the Cyclones rallied from an early 10-point deficit in Monday's 85-72 victory over No. 4 Kansas.
Iowa State (16-4) now owns wins over three of the top five teams in the latest AP poll, having edged current No. 3 Iowa 83-82 on Dec. 10.
The next test could rate as the toughest yet considering each of those signature wins came at home.
Texas A&M has outscored opponents by an average of 20.5 points in winning all 12 home games this season heading into the first meeting between programs since the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC prior to the 2012-13 season.
Texas A&M (17-3) will have some additional motivation after having its 10-game winning streak halted with Wednesday's 74-71 loss at Arkansas, where the Aggies couldn't overcome a season-high 21 turnovers and a second consecutive poor shooting performance.
The Aggies were held to 39.6 percent shooting after a 36.1-percent effort in last Saturday's 66-53 SEC win over last-place Missouri.
"We were different and I think Arkansas had something to do with that," coach Billy Kennedy said. "I think here (at Arkansas), this place is the toughest place to play in our league."
Texas A&M hopes to regain its touch from the perimeter to keep up with the efficient Cyclones, averaging 84.4 points per game and fifth nationally in field goal percentage (50.3). After shooting 38.5 percent from 3-point range over their first 17 games, the Aggies are at 27.3 percent in their last three.
Leading scorer Danuel House did break out of a recent slump with 24 points against Arkansas. The senior had 22 total while shooting 32.0 percent over his previous two games.
The Cyclones hope to build on a stellar second half against Kansas in which they shot 64.3 percent and outscored the Jayhawks 49-29. Georges Niang scored 15 of his 19 points after the break and Monte Morris had seven of his 21 during a game-changing 24-7 run.
''We needed to get our best player going, and that was Georges,'' said Morris, averaging 19.3 points on 63.0 percent shooting over his last six. ''When he gets it going, he's hard to guard.''
Iowa State has shot 50.9 percent or better in four of five games, though the Aggies lead the SEC in scoring defense (64.3 points per game) and are holding teams to 39.6 percent this season.
The Cyclones swept Texas A&M during the Aggies' final SEC season after losing eight straight in the series. Iowa State stopped a five-game skid at Reed Arena with a 74-50 rout on Jan. 7, 2012.