Big Week Starts With No. 14 Cyclones

Travis Ford and Phil Forte both delivered the same message Tuesday. It’s the same one the Oklahoma State coach has been telling everyone all year – his team isn't good enough to look past anyone. But with OSU playing two top-25 opponents – Wednesday vs. No. 14 Iowa State and Saturday vs. No. 23 West Virginia – in the next four days at Gallagher-Iba Arena it could be a big week for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys (17-8 overall/7-6 in the Big 12) are coming off a 15-point loss to TCU, which was in last place in the conference prior to Saturday. Despite that loss the Cowboys only dropped one spot from No. 21 to No. 22 in this week’s Associated Press poll.

But Ford, Forte and the rest of the team can do plenty to help themselves this week following the bad loss to the Horned Frogs. Wins over the Cyclones (18-6/8-4) and the Mountaineers (20-6/8-5) would do wonders for a team that is currently projected as a sixth seed by several of the bracketologists who are projecting the field for the NCAA Tournament.

Forte says it’s hard for the players not to notice, even though they know it doesn’t help how they perform on the court.

“You can’t be naive enough to say we don’t hear stuff like that. We watch ESPN. We see that,” said Forte. “At the same time you can’t pay too much attention to it because it’s going to change. It changes every week. Those aren’t necessarily going to be the match-ups anyway by the time the bracket comes out.

“I think you just have to take it one game at a time because if you start to slip up and look ahead you can get beat on any single day. But it’s the best time of the year. You want to enjoy it as much as you can,” he said.

OSU has lost four in a row to Iowa State, including a 63-61 loss in Ames, Iowa on Jan. 6 when Tavarius Shine and Forte each had potential game-winning three-pointers blocked in the final seconds.

Three of the those four losses have been extremely close: the 2-point loss last month, an 85-81 overtime loss in Ames last season, and a 98-97 triple overtime loss last February in Stillwater.

“I remember it just came down to the end and they just made a play or two more than we did,” Forte said of the loss last month. “Any time you go up there it’s always a difficult atmosphere, but it came down to the end and that’s how the last couple of meetings have gone with us and them.

“They’re a good team. We know what we’re going to get when we play Iowa State, so we just have to go out and get ready to execute our game plan again. Any time you play a team like that you have to be ready to play or you’re going to get exposed. We just have to be dialed in and ready to go for tomorrow.”

The Cyclones are one of the nation’s top offensive teams. They are the Big 12’s top scoring team and ninth nationally at 80.0 points per game. Iowa State’s 49.1 percent field goal shooting also leads the Big 12 and is ninth nationally.

“They score a lot of points. Their numbers speak for themselves,” Ford said. “They have skilled offensive players, so that’s the reason I think they’re one of the top offensive teams. As well, they’re very, very good defensively. Their defense compliments their offense.

“I think everybody understands how talented and how good they are. They’re ranked 14th in America, (and) I don’t think they’ve ever been out of the top 15 this year. Fred (Hoiberg) has done a terrific job with this team.”

Forte says the Cowboys know there is plenty on the line this week with two top-25 opponents making their way to Gallagher-Iba Arena.

“That’s why you come here (to play at Oklahoma State) That’s what makes it fun,” he said. “You want to be able to play a ranked team every single night. If that’s not what you want then this isn’t the sport for you.”

But, as he said earlier, he and his teammates don’t need a bracketologist like Jerry Palm or Joe Lunardi to tell them what’s at stake with March Madness just around the corner.

“Some teams at this time of year they kind of know they have to win to have a chance to make the tournament or not … Fortunately, we’ve put ourselves in a position to make the tournament and we can improve our seed. We have five games left, and we’ll take it one game at a time and let the chips fall where they may,” Forte said.

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