AMES, Iowa — It’s called “Hilton magic,” the home-court advantage Iowa State enjoys.
Kansas State knows all about it, having lost six in a row in Ames as the Wildcats head back to Hilton to open the Big 12 Conference schedule against the Cyclones at 8 p.m. Friday.
“A lot of people have not had success in that building, so we’re not the only ones,” said Bruce Weber, who is 0-5 in Ames as K-State’s coach. “It’s a challenge and a great environment, but more than the environment their teams have been pretty good so that makes it even more difficult.
“If you look back, basically every game has been very close and almost the same scenario where we’ll play well and push them and then they go make a play down the stretch. You have to find a way to get over the hump. Last year we fought back and took the lead and they made a couple of plays down the stretch.”
The Wildcats (10-2) have played five games away from Manhattan, going 3-2 coming off a 68-65 win over Washington State in Spokane, Wash., on Dec. 20.
“Every game, whether it’s home or road, is going to be a battle because of the depth of the league,” Weber said. “It’s going to make it tough, but we’ve had some experiences and that’s what you want to go through. I hope we learned and grew as we went through some of those experiences.
“I thought our guys down the stretch at Washington State had good execution, stayed focused and did what we needed to do and made the plays and found a way to win. Now you’re going to have to do that 20 more games. That will be the test not only of our team but all the teams in the league.”
K-State has received solid play from its veteran core of Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade and Xavier Sneed but is searching for consistent production elsewhere down the roster.
“If you’re going to have any chance in the league you’ve got to have some consistency,” Weber said. “We were worried a lot about our bench, and I still want production out of our bench, but also our older guys have to be consistent. The thing they have to understand is some days it’s not the scoring, it’s doing the other things: Get 10 rebounds and only get a couple of buckets, or get eight assists. Every game is different but we need that consistency.”
Iowa State (9-2) is riding a nine-game winning streak in a rebuilding year in which coach Steve Prohm had to replace Monte Morris, Deonte Buron, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas.
Junior Nick Weiler-Babb is a do-it-all guard for the Cyclones, averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Guard Lindell Wigginton is one of the top freshmen in the conference averaging 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
“They don’t have the guys they had (last year) but they’ve done a nice job figuring out what they have and how they can be successful,” Weber said. “They moved Babb to the point and he gives them some versatility and he’s really played well. He’s tall, he can get to the hoop, he can create, pass the basketball.
“The freshman (Wigginton) is really starting to step up and they’ve moved him off the basketball and he’s making plays. The little guard (Donovan Jackson) can make shots and their big guys are trying to figure it out. Like us, they have a lot of new big guys and they’re trying to figure out where those guys fit in.”