116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — A no call on an apparent goaltend. A replay reversal of a 3-pointer. A one-point loss to No. 9 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse.
All of the above could have fueled bitter disappointment for 15th-ranked Iowa State after Tuesday’s 62-61 setback to the Jayhawks, but slick-shooting backup guard Caleb Grill chose to wholly redefine the prevailing narrative.
“I just think being able to execute in an environment like that really brought us together and connected us all,” said Grill, whose Cyclones (13-3, 1-3 Big 12) will try to rebound against No. 21 Texas (13-3, 3-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Hilton Coliseum. “We may have lost in (terms of) record, but we really grew as a team. We got a lot closer to one another and I think our chemistry on and off the court grew a lot in that game, and I think going forward we’re going to be more connected with each other.”
That’s admirable if remarkably sanguine optimism, but it’s also what ISU’s leaned on all season as it attempts to climb back toward relevance in a stacked league.
And Grill better be right if the Cyclones expect to topple the well-drilled and deliberate Longhorns, who boast the nation’s best scoring defense (53 points per game) and feature experienced guards in Andrew Jones, Marcus Carr and Courtney Ramey.
“They will do different things disruptively defensively,” ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “They’ll go 2-2-1, they’ll run and trap a pass, they’ll do things to try to put you on our heels and then also offense goes into that, too. They run more motion concepts for the most part, so their offense isn’t necessarily like a quick strike unless they turn you over. So part of having a good scoring defense is playing a slower pace.”
That less-than-thrilling approach has helped put Texas in a three-way tie atop the league standings, but it’s also vulnerable to defenses intent on speeding the game up — a quality the Cyclones have showcased all season, which may be one reason Grill summoned a silver lining in the wake of the Kansas loss.
“I just think that night in and night out you’ve got to think about what can make your team successful,” Otzelberger said. “So we get asked, are we trying to play faster, slower? We’re trying to play a way that gives us the best chance to win, and we believe that’s with a lot of physicality, ball pressure, rebounding and ball toughness. When we do those things, we’re gonna be successful more often than not.”
The Cyclones showed that Tuesday against the Jayhawks, despite the outcome — and a few controversial calls — going against them.
They’ll need to sharpen their execution on both ends of the floor even more in order to sustain and nurture optimism Saturday against the Longhorns and beyond.
“When we have games, we’ve got to close them out,” ISU senior post player George Conditt IV said. “We’ve got to be able to execute in crunch time.”