Wildcats Face "Hilton Magic" Tonight
The conference leads the nation in RPI and, with six of its 10 schools ranked in the nation's top 25, every time a team steps on the court it's faced with a new challenge.
So, needless to say, tonight's game for K-State (11-7, 4-1) against the No. 9/12 Iowa State Cyclones (13-3, 3-1 Big 12) will be no easy task.
"They're coming off of a huge win," said head coach Bruce Weber yesterday morning. "They played great basketball offensively against Kansas, and even defensively, some of the things they did against Kansas' ball screens, they were tremendous in transition. So we're going to have to get back on defense."
Tipping off at 6 p.m., at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, tonight's game will feature two Big 12 teams coming off of big-time wins.
The Wildcats enter tonight's game coming off a 63-61 victory over No. 21 Baylor in Bramlage Coliseum while the Cyclones defeated No. 11/15 (then No. 9) Kansas, 86-81, at home on Saturday evening.
Both teams boast talented guards as K-State's Marcus Foster and Iowa State's Georges Niang rank in the Big 12's top 10 in scoring, and, as both teams have only one Big 12 loss, they enter tonight's contest with hopes of holding the top position in the Big 12 standings.
"Being tied for first, I hope that's a motivator for our guys," said Weber. "Maybe we've got ourselves figuring things out, but the biggest thing is consistency and getting ready to play this team. (Tonight) we've got to do what we do well."
The Cyclones are led by Niang, who is averaging 14.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and is coming off a 15-point performance against Kansas. A player who Weber said, "creates a nightmare for everybody," Niang has scored in double figures in each of the Cyclones' previous five games.
While Niang will be a threat, he's not the only one scoring big buckets for Iowa State. Four other players (Naz Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue and Monté Morris) are also averaging points in double digits this season.
"We've just got to make sure we control the tempo of this game," said Weber, "and see if we can do a good job one-on-one."
On the flipside, while the Cyclones have proven to be the toughest offense in the Big 12 as they average a conference-leading 80.3 points per game, the Wildcats' defense has been among the league's strongest as it has held Big 12 opponents to an average of just 57.8 points per game.
The Wildcats are led by Foster, who is averaging a team-leading 13.6 points per game to go along with 2.2 rebounds. He has scored in double figures in a team-leading 14 games, including each of the last four games.
While Foster is the team leader, senior Nino Williams has been stepping up as of late and has made a key impact on the Wildcats' four-game winning streak, where he is averaging 9.5 points and a team-leading 5.5 rebounds per game. Williams scored 18 points in K-State's win over Baylor on Saturday and is averaging 10.9 points and a team-leading 4.8 rebounds this season.
With its home arena garnering an advantage nicknamed "Hilton Magic," the atmosphere at Iowa State will only add to the intensity of tonight's game. In the last three seasons, Iowa State is a daunting 40-2 at home. Considered one of the toughest environments to play in college basketball, the Cyclones hold an overall 75.1-percent winning percentage all-time in Hilton Coliseum.
"I've been thinking about it all year, and I just want to play well there," said Williams. "Last week we were good on the road, and I told the guys, on the road in the Big 12, you just have to play. They're going to take away your sets, they're going to take away a lot of stuff; so you've just got to play."
Ready to go out and play, K-State has proven itself battle-tested over the past two weeks and, if it continues its consistency, the Wildcats just might find themselves stretching their winning streak to five games.
"We aren't always pretty, but we do battle," said Weber. "We've made some plays. We found a way to win at Oklahoma, had a nice win against a top 25 team in Baylor, but now we just have to get some consistency because in the Big 12 you've got to be consistent and find a way to win the close games."
Tonight's game will be aired nationally on ESPN2. For more information, please click here.