116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Sports / Iowa Prep Sports / High School Basketball
Right out of the gate, Cyclones streaked past UConn
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- OK, this is the horse racing towns of horse racing towns, so let's see how Iowa State did against its form chart in its 77-64 whipping of Connecticut Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
1. Reliance on the 3-pointer to win? Yes, but no. ISU canned six threes in the first 11 minutes and 12 seconds, but then, not another.
2. Soft in the block defensively? The Cyclones were about as soft as Kentucky limestone. Big men Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi, who were supposed to wear down ISU's frontcourt players, were a couple of ciphers. Each was 1-of-4 from the floor and had two points.
Drummond, projected by many as an NBA lottery pick, might want to try another year of school. He got schooled by ISU's Royce White and friends. The Cyclones had a 41-24 advantage in rebounds, and had 34 points in the paint to the Huskies' 20.
3. Everything goes through White on offense? The 6-foot-8 "point forward" had an excellent game with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and shook up UConn right out of the gate with a drive for a dunk.
But this was an 8-man attack. There was penetration without hesitation displayed by forwards Melvin Ejim and Anthony Booker, and guards Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson, and even former walk-on Bubu Palo, who at 6-foot-1 banked in a shot over 6-10 Drummond with a high enough arch to get a nod of approval from downtown St. Louis.
"Watching film," Allen said, "we felt we could penetrate and get their big guys in foul trouble. The gameplan worked out."
Palo's circus shot gave ISU a 61-52 edge with 5:45 left. I didn't hear the telecast of the game, but doubt color commentator Bill Raftery gave it his famous "dagger" term. But psychically, it turned out to be just that. UConn had played good defense on that Iowa State possession, but Palo found a way to do something better.
That was the Cyclones' last basket of the night, and they didn't need any more. They made all 14 of their free throws the rest of the way, and were 19-of-20 at the line. But good shooting is something that does follow the form chart, except for perhaps White from the stripe.
Though White had ISU's lone miss, he made 3 of 4. When he swished a pair with 1:13 left to up his team's lead to 71-56, it was like a taunt without actually being one.
What a performance. Put Saturday's Mount Everest-climb of a game against Kentucky in the Wildcats' backyard on hold for a little while and salute second-year Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg for, well, for coaching.
Hoiberg is as cool on the sideline as he was as a Cyclone guard, and that's cool. That paid off Thursday. It wouldn't have taken much for his team to come unglued when UConn cut a 38-16 deficit to 42-32 at halftime, and with the longer-than-normal halftimes the NCAA employs during its tourney.
With 6 1/2 minutes left in halftime, the Clones were back on the court, shooting baskets. Hoiberg told them all he needed and wanted to tell them during the break, and let them go out and get reacquainted with shooting baskets rather than stare at each other in a small KFC Yum! Center dressing room and make each other nervous.
"We'd been sitting down for 13 minutes," Allen said. "We went back out and got loose."
UConn's Jim Calhoun is a coach's coach who needs no defense. His career record is beyond fantastic. Three NCAA titles, 49 wins in this tournament.
But it was Calhoun who felt he had to use virtually every moment of every timeout -- and he called three of them in the first-half alone. The Huskies spent more time in their dressing room during halftime. They had the coach who has pushed every button a thousand times, knows how to bury most opponents, and knows how to claw back from 22 points down.
Not this night, though. Connecticut pulled within 58-52 with 8:26 left, but a Cyclones program that hadn't been to the NCAAs in seven years acted like this was old hat. They kept their heads on straight for most subsequent possessions, using clock without getting overly conservative as you've seen teams with leads wrong-headedly do so many times. Do what got you here. Play your game, not theirs. The Cyclones did.
"I feel like just we wanted it more," Allen said. "I felt like we was doing everything we needed to and played hard. When I say wanted it more, I mean rebounds. We outrebounded them by almost 20. That's a great stat line"
"I would say that rebounds were definitely a factor," White said, "but the number one thing is that we stayed together and we pulled together, and we showed a true bond out there, more than we ever have this year. It takes that bond to win a big-time game like that against a big-time team."
The body language paralleled the game. Iowa State players seemed ready, willing, able, and focused from the opening tip. It took UConn too long to get going, and once it did, it still seemed to lack the passion of a team that was playing in a national tournament.
Maybe part of that came from knowing it couldn't begin to match last year's results. Maybe part of that came from a realization it wasn't the better team this night.
"I'm as surprised as anybody," Calhoun said. "I imagine our players are, too.
"Fred and the Iowa State team showed up at a different speed, a different level than what we played.
"At times we certainly made a dent and came back, but the opening few minutes kind of set the tone for the game. .. Give them all the credit, Iowa State. There weren't too many ways in which they didn't beat us tonight."
After UConn didn't score on its first possession, White went almost coast-to-coast before dunking. It was just two points, and Drummond answered the basket at the other end. But that tone Calhoun talked about was indeed set.
"They came out and they threw the first punch," Huskies guard Shabazz Napier said. "We weren't ready for it."
Throughout the game, different Cyclones made aggressive, positive plays. Allen made a twisting jumper in the lane over much-larger opponents. Ejim made a corner jumper. Babb flummoxed star UConn guard Jeremy Lamb in the first half with his defense. By the time Lamb finally scored, it was to cut his team's deficit to 20.
Little-known backup forward Booker was more effective than Oriakhi, one of UConn's four returning starters on a team that won the whole shooting match a year ago. Booker scored off a steal and later off an offensive rebound for four of the points in ISU's 16-0 first-half run.
Now, of course, the Cyclones get the dubious pleasure of facing Kentucky. It's quite possibly the most-monstrous team in the nation, a club that put on a dunk-a-thon in its 81-66 breeze over Western Kentucky Thursday that was nowhere near as close as the score suggests.
Calhoun's UConn teams had been 16-1 in their first game of an NCAA tourney. But in Year 2 of the Hoiberg Era, there was no one-and-done here.
"This is a huge win for our program," Hoiberg said.
And all he did to make it happen was out-coach a Hall of Famer.