KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There are a whole bunch of folks happy about a rematch between Iowa State and Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament Friday night at Sprint Center.
Of course, Iowa State fans are happy, anxious now to see their Cyclones take revenge for two earlier overtime defeats, one they contend came as a result of bizarre misfortune and the other they swear was stolen from them by the officials.
The Jayhawks are more than happy to prove they are simply the better team than Iowa State, with or without questionable officiating.
And Kansas City area bars and restaurants are thrilled to have both fan bases still hanging around the area — Iowa State traditionally sends the largest contingent of out-of-town fans to the tourney.
Friday night’s semifinal matchup should be intriguing to the casual observer as well because the Cyclones match up well with the Jayhawks. The Cyclones boast one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, they have a big man (6-foot-8 Georges Niang) who can shoot long-range and pull Kansas giant Jeff Withey away from the glass, and they have guards (Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious) who can dribble penetrate at will.
And, perhaps most important of all, the Cyclones have motivation.
“Those two games against Kansas were pretty tough losses for us,” Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim said. “They’re a good team. We’re a good team. We’re excited to get another crack at them.”
Clyburn put it far more bluntly.
“It’s about payback,” he said. “I can’t wait for the opportunity. They beat us twice — probably games we shouldn’t have lost. But hey, I’m ready for some payback.”
The Cyclones, 22-10, lost the first time to Kansas in Lawrence after Jayhawks guard Ben McLemore tossed up a prayer with one second left in regulation from the right wing — a wild 3-point shot that actually banked in from an unlikely angle to tie the game. Kansas then rolled to a 97-89 overtime win.
In Ames, the Cyclones controlled the affair throughout and led by five with 35 seconds left. The lead was whittled to two in the closing seconds when Kansas’ Elijah Johnson drove down the middle of the lane and crashed into Niang, who appeared to have position. No call was made either way. The ball squirted free and then, to the Cyclones’ disbelief, Niang was called for a foul on the scramble.
Johnson sank both free throws, and the Jayhawks rolled to a 108-96 overtime win over the dispirited Cyclones.
“It’s going to be a fun game (with Kansas),” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “The first two were fun, especially for Kansas… But our guys will step up. I’m confident we’ll show up and play well.”
The Cyclones might be a little drained after getting tested to the fullest by Oklahoma on Thursday. The Cyclones came out flat and hit just 11 of 31 shots in the first half, including just one of 12 from three-point range. Oklahoma led by as much as 14 in the first half.
But in the second half, the Cyclones turned it on. They hit 15 of 30 shots after halftime, including six of 14 from 3-point range. And they dominated the glass, outrebounding Oklahoma 43-31 for the game.
“That’s the thing about us,” Clyburn said. “We can have some bad stretches where we can’t make shots. Then we have stretches where we don’t feel like we can miss. We have to just keep shooting. We have to forget about the last shot and just stay with it.”
The Cyclones also finished with 36 points in the paint, a stat Hoiberg was quick to point out. But that figure won’t be as crucial against Kansas, not against the 7-foot-1 Withey patrolling the middle.
That’s where Niang comes in, who not only can hit threes, but also can drill the 15-foot jumpers that Withey has to defend.
Kansas coach Bill Self recognizes the difficulty in playing Iowa State again.
“I think it’s going to be a terrific ballgame,” Self said after his team destroyed Texas Tech, 91-63, on Thursday.
“They’re good. And they can stretch it from all five spots. That’s tough on us. It takes Jeff (Withey) away from basket, and that’s where he’s so good protecting the rim.
“We’ve had two classic games with them this year. The games may be the two best games, most exciting games played in our league this year. …They’ve been classics.”
The Jayhawks’ warm-up game on Thursday was anything but a classic. Kansas mauled an overmatched Texas Tech team.
Ben McLemore scored 24 points and the Jayhawks shot a blistering 66 percent from the floor, a record for a Big 12 tourney game, surpassing Baylor’s 63 percent in 2007.
McLemore said there was a reason the Jayhawks shot so well.
“We make the extra pass,” he said. “You try to create for your teammates and you make the extra pass — that’s how you make 66 percent.”
The Jayhawks may need that kind of unselfishness again Friday night against a Cyclones team that some believe is still on the NCAA bubble.
“They’re not a bubble team,” Self protested. “I don’t think Fred could sell to his team that they’re a bubble team for motivation. They’re in the tournament. And I also don’t believe he will have to try too hard to motivate his team against us.”
There is some concern that because of the ugly fashion in which the KU-Iowa State game ended the last time the teams played, the officials this time will call the game extra close — that could benefit the Cyclones.
“I hadn’t thought about that because the officials are pros,” Self said. “That won’t even register in an official’s mind. If it does, then they’re not a pro.
“I’m not going to make light of what happened in Ames. We benefited from a no call. But there’s lots of calls during the course of a game. There’s just not the calls at the end of the game that benefit a team.
“We’re going to have great officials tomorrow night. Two good teams. Should be a lot of fun.”