For Iowa State, the Big 12 tournament is another chance to add to a breakthrough season. For Texas, it provides a more pressing opportunity.
The Longhorns will try to boost their NCAA tournament hopes by beating the 25th-ranked Cyclones on Thursday night in Kansas City.One of Iowa State's latest achievements in its second campaign under coach and alumnus Fred Hoiberg was its first AP ranking since Nov. 15, 2005, on Monday. Before appearing in the poll, the Cyclones (22-9) experienced one of their best seasons in the Big 12 with 12 victories in 18 games -- third-most in school history -- and they appear ready to end a seven-year NCAA tournament absence.Iowa State's 22 wins are its most since it finished 25-6 in 2000-01, and the Cyclones will try to add to that total with their first conference tournament victory since 2005."I like the way we're playing," said Hoiberg, who shared Big 12 coach of the year honors with Kansas' Bill Self. "We're playing with a lot of confidence right now. We're competing on a nightly basis."Our guys, I think they have great chemistry. I think they play well together, and I think they like playing with each other."The third-seeded Cyclones likely do not need a win over No. 6 seed Texas (19-12) to end their NCAA tournament drought. The Longhorns, however, might require a victory Thursday to help it get off the bubble and possibly another in Friday night's semifinal, potentially against No. 5 Missouri.Texas -- seeking its 14th consecutive NCAA tournament berth -- is one of six schools with active streaks of 13 or more years."If we're the second-best league in the country, that's where we are, there's no reason we shouldn't have six teams in," coach Rick Barnes said. "Do we have to win another game? I don't want to win just one. I want to win again and again."The Longhorns might have to seek that win without starting big man Alexis Wangmene. The senior landed awkwardly on his left wrist during a 73-63 loss at No. 3 Kansas on Saturday.The loss of Wangmene -- averaging 4.6 points and 4.7 rebounds -- could make it more difficult for Texas to contain Cyclones sophomore forward and Big 12 newcomer of the year Royce White. White leads Iowa State in all major categories, but it's Scott Christopherson who's shined lately by averaging 21.8 points over the last five games.The senior guard had 23 points and six assists in an 80-72 home win over then-No. 9 Baylor on Saturday.Christopherson was one of five players in double figures during a 77-71 home victory over the Longhorns to open Big 12 play Jan. 4. Texas' Clint Chapman had 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds during that loss, and J'Covan Brown, the Big 12's leading scorer at 20.0 points per game, finished with 19 despite missing most of the second half with an ankle injury.Brown scored 12 points despite missing 13 of 16 shots during a visit from Iowa State on Jan. 24, but the Cyclones didn't fare much better from the field, making 33.3 percent of their attempts in a 62-55 loss. White had 15 points and 15 rebounds in the losing effort.Iowa State has won four of five but dropped eight of its last nine against the Longhorns. Texas is 12-4 versus the Cyclones under Barnes.