KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger’s main talking points heading into a quarterfinal against No. 10 Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament centered on the basics: rebounding and points in the paint.
The Cyclones must have taken the message to heart.
Sure, Gabe Kalscheur knocked down six 3-pointers and scoring 24 points. But everyone else wearing red had a hand in the huge advantage on the boards, including a 21-5 edge on the offensive glass, and that allowed the fifth-seeded Cyclones to beat the fourth-seeded Bears 78-72 on Thursday and advance to the semifinal round.
“The things we really focused on,” Otzelberger said with a hoarse voice, “our guys did a great job.”
Jaren Holmes added 17 points, Tamin Lipsey had 12 and Tre King 10 for the Cyclones (19-12), who followed up a win over the Bears on Saturday by beating them for the fifth time in six conference tournament games.
Iowa State will play third-ranked Kansas on Friday night for a spot in the title game. The Jayhawks, playing without ailing coach Bill Self, beat West Virginia 78-61 in their quarterfinal matchup.
As for Bears, well, the game plan for Iowa State to beat them was simple.
“Our coaches did a great job of telling us to take away their 3s,” Kalscheur said. “Jalen Bridges was knocking down 3s – a lot of them were open – but we kind of limited their other guards from going off.”
Bridges, who was held to five points on 1-for-9 shooting against Iowa State last weekend, went 10 of 11 from the field, topped his career high with a 3 early in the second half and finished with 28 points for Baylor (22-10).
It wasn’t enough against the Cyclones, who are trying to repeat their 2019 title as the No. 5 seed.
They outhustled the Bears to just about every loose ball. They crashed the offensive glass, often getting three or four shots in each trip down floor. And they had Kalscheur and Co. lighting it up from beyond the arc.
“It’s about rebounding. It’s about toughness. It’s about want-to,” Bridges said, “and right now, we don’t have that.”
The first of the four quarterfinal games, each featuring a pair of teams that could be in the NCAA Tournament next week, was mostly played before vast sections of empty seats at T-Mobile Center. Many of them finally filled in the closing minutes with Kansas fans that were eagerly waiting their game against the Mountaineers.
Those late arrivals missed a typical, physical Big 12 showdown: The Bears’ Adam Flagler was trapped near midcourt and hit the deck early, sending him limping off the floor, and fellow guard Dale Bonner was similarly trapped and raked across his face in the final seconds, leaving him writhing around in pain.
Flagler returned to hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave Baylor a 41-38 lead at the break.
Bridges was the one giving Iowa State the most fits, though. He drilled a couple of his 3-pointers early in the second half, and was 9 of 9 from the field and 6 of 6 from the arc before missing his first shot with 11:45 to go. But when he finally missed, the Cyclones were there to capitalize on his missed jumper.
Holmes dropped a 3 of his own from the top of the key at the other end, giving the Cyclones a 54-53 lead and forcing Bears coach Scott Drew to call a timeout, and Iowa State kept drawing away down the stretch.
“We tried to get Jalen going on that matchup, and that worked. Twelve assists and 11 turnovers, that worked,” Drew said. “It came down to rebounding. Period. That’s it. Simple thing. Football, it’s turnovers. Basketball, you got to rebound. Normally we always win second-chance points. Even if we break even, we win the game. It’s that simple.”
Iowa State: Finished with a 44-17 advantage on the glass, and that translated to a 36-14 edge on points in the paint. That gave the Cyclones, who are known for their 3-point shooting, a balanced attack that Baylor couldn’t match.
Baylor: Didn’t get enough offensive efficiency to help Bridges out. Star freshman Keyonte George scored 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting before fouling out, Flagler had 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting and LJ Cryer was 3 for 10 for 10 points.
Iowa State: Plays the No. 1 seed Jayhawks in Friday night’s semifinal round.
Baylor: Awaits its NCAA Tournament seed on Sunday.