Oklahoma has played its way into an opportunity to earn at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title, while Iowa State still has hopes of claiming a piece despite rare back-to-back defeats.
The 16th-ranked Sooners look to take another step toward their first league crown since 2005 on Monday night when they visit the 12th-ranked Cyclones, who will try to stay alive in their bid for their first in 14 years.
Although Oklahoma (20-8, 11-5) isn’t playing its best, it’s finding ways to win and keep pace in the competitive Big 12.
Following a setback at Kansas State, the Sooners rallied for a 71-69 home win over Texas, escaped Texas Tech with a 79-75 overtime victory and stormed back from an eight-point halftime deficit in Saturday’s 67-60 home win over TCU.
One game behind Kansas, which has won at least a piece of the last 10 regular-season conference titles, Oklahoma needs victories at Iowa State and at home against the Jayhawks on Saturday to claim at least a share of their first regular-season title since 2005 – the year Kansas’ streak began.
”We’ve been talking about that a lot as a whole team and with the coaches and just with the players,” forward TaShawn Thomas said. ”But right now, I feel like we just need to focus on Monday you know, going to Ames and just trying to get a win there, and then we can worry about Kansas. But right now, we just need to focus on Iowa State.”
The Cyclones (20-8, 10-6) remain alive in the race, though they’re now in need of some help. After their 21-game home winning streak came to an end in Wednesday’s 79-70 loss to No. 19 Baylor, they suffered consecutive defeats for the first time in 12 months in a 70-69 stumble at Kansas State on Saturday.
Iowa State, which visits TCU on Saturday to close the regular season, can’t afford another setback if it hopes to have an opportunity to claim a share of its first conference title since the 2000-2001 season – and now needs help as well.
”That’s two tough ones, two very tough ones in a row,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, whose club will try to avoid its first back-to-back home losses since his first season in 2010-11. “We’ll find out a lot about ourselves in how we bounce back.”
The Cyclones have slipped off their outstanding scoring pace, averaging 69.5 points on 43.2 percent shooting in the two losses after entering the stretch with a league-high 79.8 per game and a 48.6 field-goal percentage.
Georges Niang finished with 21 points and hit a career-high five 3-pointers Saturday, while Monte Morris added 15 but experienced a nasty fall that left him with a sore tailbone and also took a hit to the head. Bryce Dejean-Jones, however, was held scoreless and has been held to single digits in three of his last four games.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield broke out of his slump with 21 points and a career-high 13 rebounds against the Horned Frogs. The Big 12’s leading scorer (17.0 ppg) made 6 of 11 from the floor after missing 22 of 29 over his previous two games.
Thomas, who added 15 points and eight rebounds Saturday, led the way with 22 and 11 in a 94-83 home win over the Cyclones on Feb. 9. Isaiah Cousins had 19 points and Hield scored 17 as the Sooners shot 50.6 percent.
Dustin Hogue finished with 19 points and hit 4 of 5 from 3-point range as Iowa State went 14 for 29 from beyond the arc, but Oklahoma held Niang and Morris to a combined 13 on 6-of-19 shooting.
Hield scored 30 but Niang had 27 as the Cyclones won their third straight meeting in Ames, 81-75 on Feb. 1, 2014.