No. 11 Iowa State is climbing the Big 12 standings and coming off a resounding home victory against defending national champion Kansas.
West Virginia started the week third from the bottom in the conference, but that hardly matters to Cyclones coach T.J. Otzelberger entering Wednesday’s road game against the Mountaineers in Morgantown, W.Va.
Plenty of people doubted Iowa State (16-6, 7-3 Big 12) this season, too.
“So, we’re just going to keep working,” Otzelberger said. “Our guys love each other. When you get to this point in the year, I think the team that has the best locker room has a chance to win, and I think the team that continues to improve and work does as well.
“I’ve seen both of those attributes from our guys, and I only expect those to continue going forward.”
By that logic, the Cyclones, who are 4-6 away from home this season, could be in for a stiff test against the improving Mountaineers.
West Virginia (14-9, 3-7) has won three of its last four games, including a 93-61 rout of visiting Oklahoma on Saturday.
Erik Stevenson scored 34 points — including a 6-for-11 effort from 3-point range — to establish a new career high for the second successive Saturday. He had 31 points in a victory against then-No. 15 Auburn the week before.
“Erik was terrific,” Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. “And I thought he did a good job of leading and helping our other guys.”
Kedrian Johnson followed with 16 points while reserve James Okonkwo contributed a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds for West Virginia, which avenged a one-point loss at Oklahoma in mid-January.
That earlier defeat had put the Mountaineers at 0-5 in conference play; they have won three of five league games since.
To Huggins, that trend is a product of the program’s younger players adapting to the Big 12 atmosphere.
“You think the majority of these guys ever played in front of 14,000 people? I think they’re starting to understand,” Huggins said. “I think they’re starting to feel better about themselves, feel more comfortable.”
As usual, Iowa State will yearn to take its foes out of their offensive comfort zone. In Saturday’s 68-53 victory against Kansas, the Cyclones did just that by forcing 20 turnovers and limiting the Jayhawks to 38.6-percent shooting from the floor.
“We tried to set the tone defensively with continuous ball pressure,” Otzelberger said. “Not letting up, understanding personnel really well, and the decisions we make. … They run a lot of good actions. Our guys were very focused mentally.”
Jaren Holmes paced the Cyclones with 15 points, with all coming in the second half, while Osun Osunniyi (13 points) and Tre King (10) followed. The Cyclones led by as many as 19 points.
West Virginia and Iowa State split two meetings last season, with the Mountaineers and Cyclones each winning on their home floor.
Iowa State is set to host West Virginia on Feb. 27 in the penultimate game of the regular season.
–Field Level Media