LOUISVILLE — Iowa State senior guard Chris Allen says as soon as the game ended, he was “ready for Kentucky” and anxious to play the No. 1 Wildcats on Saturday night.
“It feels great. I can’t wait to the next game. I wish we played now,” said Allen after Iowa State’s 77-64 win over Connecticut. “If we do what we have to do, this is probably going to be one of the toughest roads to get to the NCAA finals in history. If we come out like we did against UConn, it’s going to be a long game for Kentucky.”
Iowa State might back up those bold words if it plays like it did during what coach Fred Hoiberg called his team’s “best 10 minutes of the season” that put Connecticut in a hole early and took care of all the pre-NCAA hype about a Kentucky-Connecticut rematch of last year’s Final Four game.
“That is all everybody has been talking about. We are walking up and down the street and hear Kentucky this, Kentucky that. I have total respect for them, but at the same time I am a competitor,” Allen said. “I am going to go out there and compete. If you are not motivated by that type of stuff, you shouldn’t be in this game.”
Iowa State (23-10) has wins over Kansas and Baylor, two potential Final Four teams. It lost twice to Missouri, another Final Four contender, by a combined 13 points.
“We will show up and throw the ball up and play,” Iowa State senior guard Scott Christopherson, an 89 percent foul shooter and transfer from Marquette, said. “Obviously, we know we are playing a really good team. It’s not like we don’t realize that. But we have played against some really good teams all year. I don’t know if we have seen a team that guards quite as well as they do, but I am sure we will have a good game plan.
“There is no doubt Kentucky has probably been the best and most consistent team all year. This is their home state and I am sure it will be sold out and covered in blue (in the arean), but we are looking forward to challenge. We did a great job on the boards (against Connecticut), especially in the first half. We did not let them get out in transition and get easy baskets and we have to do the same thing against Kentucky so they won’t get their confidence going.”
Iowa State outrebounded Connecticut 41-24 and went 19-for-20 at the foul line. The Cyclones also went 6-for-16 from 3-point range. Iowa State is hitting 38 percent from 3-point range on the season and averages 8.3 treys per game. In Big 12 play, Iowa State hit 164 of 436 3-point shots. Four players have made between 50 and 72 3-pointers.
“We are going to have to knock down shots to beat Kentucky,” Christopherson, a 45 percent long-range shooter, said. “They have so much length inside and we are going to have to be able to make shots to extend them.”
Allen, a 38 percent 3-point shooter with 72 treys, thinks seeing Kentucky on TV so much could help the Cyclones.
“How could you miss them? They play every day on TV, so I definitely got the upper hand in that aspect of it. We have seen them play a lot and we have seen a lot of their weaknesses and have seen a lot of their strengths,” Allen said. “The big thing about this time is that you are playing against teams you have never played against, so if you are not watching film a lot and seeing everything you do, it’s going to be a long game for you. But we know plenty about Kentucky already.”
Most coaches and players have indicated Kentucky lacks a glaring weakness, one reason the Wildcats have been ranked No. 1 for eight straight weeks and now have 33 wins after Thursday’s victory over Western Kentucky.
“As far as weakness, nobody has just really came at them. Everybody has come out with too much respect for them,” Allen said. “I am not saying that you should not respect somebody, but you can’t have so much respect for them when you are competing. When you are competing, you can’t be friends with somebody you are competing against.
“They have great players. I feel like their first six could easily be NBA draft picks. That’s just my thoughts about it.”
Iowa State has not been in the NCAA since 2005, but Allen has played in 15 NCAA games. He went to back-to-back Final Fours with Michigan State in 2009 and 2010 before transferring to Iowa State.
“All everybody talked about was if you win you have got to play Kentucky. We are not looking at it like that. We are looking at it as just another team and we are going to play hard like we did tonight,” he said. “I wouldn’t say UConn took us lightly, but they didn’t expect us to jump out on them like that. If anything, they were just stunned. Maybe Kentucky will be the same way.”