No. 14 Iowa State, Cincinnati to clash in Big 12 contest

In a power-packed Big 12 Conference that features big names and iconic basketball programs, who's in second place?Not Kansas, not Baylor, not Texas Tech, not Texas and not even a ranked BYU team th

No. 14 Iowa State, Cincinnati to clash in Big 12 contest

In a power-packed Big 12 Conference that features big names and iconic basketball programs, who’s in second place?

Not Kansas, not Baylor, not Texas Tech, not Texas and not even a ranked BYU team that has enjoyed a strong debut in its new league.

It’s Iowa State, which has won five of its last six games and always seems to be overlooked yet always seems to be a contender.

The No. 14 Cyclones (18-5, 7-3) are just a half-game behind first-place Houston entering Tuesday night’s conference tussle at Cincinnati (15-8, 4-6).

Iowa State seems to do it a different way in every win, the mark of a team that can win a championship.

In Saturday’s 71-59 home victory over TCU, it was sound offensive execution and shotmaking. Iowa State hit 50 percent of its shots from the field, including 8 of 19 (42.1 percent) from the 3-point line, and drew 20 assists on 24 made buckets.

For good measure, the Cyclones also sank 15 of 18 free-throw attempts.

“There’s no ego there in terms of where the shots come from, where the points come from, who scores it,” Cyclones coach T.J. Otzelberger said.

The latest win epitomized that statement. Tre King led the way with 15 points, while UNLV transfer Keshon Gilbert and Curtis Jones each scored 13. All nine players who took the court scored at least three points.

Need more proof? Six different players have led the team in scoring in conference games. Gilbert’s 13.9 ppg lead the team, with Tamin Lipsey right behind at 13.2 and Milan Momcilovic at 12.6. Three other players chip in between 8.4 and 9.8 ppg.

“Everybody’s trying to make the right play for each other, and that gives us great balance,” Otzelberger said. “Makes us tough to prepare for.”

Meanwhile, Cincinnati (15-8, 4-6) also has played better than most expected in its first year in the Big 12. The Bearcats nearly took down Houston at home Saturday, losing 67-62 despite leading at halftime 32-29.

Cincinnati led by seven early in the second half before falling behind by 10. A late surge got the Bearcats within two points at the 1:41 mark before the Cougars made key plays at the end.

Bearcats coach Wes Miller pointed at losing the battle of the boards 41-34 and giving up 17 offensive rebounds as keys in a game in which his team held Houston to 39.1 percent shooting from the field.

“We pride ourselves on being a rebounding team,” Miller said. “We are trying to establish an identity on the boards, and it’s hard to overcome the 17 offensive rebounds. We had a real opportunity against a top five team in the country.”

Bench scoring kept Cincinnati in the game. The Bearcats got 13 points from Dan Skillings and 10 from Jizzle James. Skillings’ 12.2 ppg lead a balanced attack, while Viktor Lakhin (11.1), Day Day Thomas (10.6) and John Newman (10.0) also average in double figures.

The loss to Houston aside, rebounding has been a Bearcats’ strength this season as they are 11th in Division I at 37.7 rebounds per game entering Monday.