A 2-1 run through the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore., over the weekend helped vault Iowa State to a No. 23 ranking entering Wednesday's visit from North Dakota.
While victories against Villanova and then-No. 1 North Carolina excited the Cyclones, they hardly viewed Sunday's tournament championship game loss to No. 20 Connecticut as utter deflation.
"This is a learning experience," said Iowa State's Osun Osunniyi. "We're not going to hang our hats on this one loss. We had two really good wins."
Iowa State (5-1) was inconsistent in the scoring column against the Huskies. While Osunniyi (14 points), Tamin Lipsey (12) and Jaren Holmes (11) contributed double-figure efforts, the Cyclones hoped for more from Caleb Grill.
Grill, who connected on 7-of-11 attempts from long range against North Carolina en route to 31 points, had just one point against UConn while missing each of his three 3-pointers.
Rebounding woes further doomed Iowa State, as UConn seized a 48-19 edge on the glass.
"Physically, we've got to be able to hit people," Cyclones coach T.J. Otzelberger said. "I don't feel like we did the job hitting bodies and keeping bodies off the board like we need to."
The loss stopped the Cyclones' 18-game, regular-season winning streak against nonconference opponents.
Holmes was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week on the heels of his tournament performance. The St. Bonaventure transfer averaged 15 points and 4.7 assists while logging an average of 31.7 minutes in the three Phil Knight Invitational games.
He clearly will be on the radar for North Dakota (5-3), a program that, like Iowa State, prides itself on defense.
The Hawks limited Cal State Fullerton to 11 points in the final 10 minutes of Sunday's 73-57 home victory to close UND Holiday Tournament play. Friday's tournament win against Utah Tech saw North Dakota hold its foe to six points in the final 10 minutes, preserving a 67-52 victory.
"What this means is you see the potential with this group and what we can become," North Dakota coach Paul Sather said. "We've got to keep the mindset of what we can do to help this team and be ready when your number is called. But we're starting to find the core of some culture and toughness."
Four Hawks scored in double figures against Cal State Fullerton, led by Tsotne Tsartsidze (18) and Matt Norman (14).
Tsartsidze grabbed a game-high eight rebounds to go with two blocks.
Sather and his staff have emphasized the team element of defense as the program aims for a turnaround from last season's six-win effort.
"It's been great but there is still room to improve, myself included," Norman said. "No one cares who gets the credit. Everyone is willing to put it on the line defensively."
Iowa State boasts a 2-0 edge in the all-time series, although the schools haven't met in nearly 13 years. The Cyclones rolled past visiting North Dakota 83-52 on Dec. 22, 2009, after winning by 26 points on their home floor on Jan. 5, 2008.
--Field Level Media
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