Houston Cougars vs. Iowa State Cyclones Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It might be that the first team to 50 points, wins.

Top-ranked Houston and seventh-ranked Iowa State, the two best defensive teams in the Big 12 Conference and two of the top five in Division I, will meet Saturday evening in the conference’s tournament final.

Top-seeded Houston (30-3) defeated fourth-seeded Texas Tech 82-59 in the first semifinal on Friday, and second-seeded Iowa State (26-7) defeated third-seeded Baylor 76-62 in the second.

Iowa State is the only school to have played in the tournament title game and never lost. The Cyclones are 5-0 all-time in that situation.

“We’re just gonna do what we do every single day,” Iowa State coach TJ Otzelberger said. “We have a lot of respect for Houston and what they’ve done. We aim to be at our best (Saturday) and not really worry about what’s happened before. Just control (that) we can be the best version of ourselves (Saturday) night.”

Leading by eight points at halftime on Friday, Iowa State erased any lingering doubt with a 17-3 run to start the second half. The Cyclones hit 7 of 9 from the field, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, during the run. Meanwhile, the Bears missed their first 10 shots of the half, with their only three points coming from the free-throw line.

Keshon Gilbert scored 20 points for the Cyclones, who shot 50 percent (10 of 20) from 3-point range. They hit 5 of 10 in each half, one night after going 1-for-14.

Houston, which has won 11 straight games, demonstrated an amazing ability to go on runs. In their first two tournament games combined, the Cougars have outscored their opponents 37-8 in the first 10 minutes of the game. Iowa State will have to come up with a strategy to slow them.

“The defensive effort on both sides,” Otzelberger said when asked what will stand out about Saturday’s matchup. “The pride that each team has. You know that everything is going to take your best effort.

“If you don’t on every single possession, you’ll get exposed. It’s important that we keep our focus on one possession at a time being at our best. It’s important that, offensively, we continue to play as we have these last couple of nights, when we really moved the ball and shared the ball. Those are going to be extremely important things against a really good Houston team.”

Houston jumped to a 21-8 lead at the 10-minute mark before Texas Tech started its comeback. The Red Raiders tied the score at 37-37 with 17:40 left. But then Houston went on a 20-1 run over the next 6:10, and the game was never close again.

“I thought we got off to a great start,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “Our line of scrimmage on our pick-and-roll defense wasn’t what I expect. We had some guys that I thought let off the accelerator a little bit. We needed to get some adjustments made that I know how to make, for lack of a better explanation.

“Once we got them together, we felt like we could get into the paint. Once we got into the paint, we have good shooters, we’ve got guys that can make shots.”

The Cougars’ J’Wan Roberts was limited to 7:04 of game action after injuring his right leg in the opening minutes of the game. Sampson said he’s more concerned with who is available to play than who his team might be playing against.

“At this point, we only have 6 1/2 guys healthy,” he said, “so it doesn’t matter who we play. I’m glad we won today. It would be nice just to go home right now and just get healthy.”

That isn’t going to happen, because the Cyclones await.

–David Smale, Field Level Media

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