March 22, 2000
AMES, Iowa - No longer is Iowa State's run in the NCAA basketball tournament about winning respect. Now it's just about winning.
With a first-team All-American in Marcus Fizer, the Big 12 regular-season and tournament championships and two double-digit victories in NCAA play, the Cyclones feel they have earned respect.
What they want now is to keep playing, and their next chance comes Thursday night against UCLA in the Midwest Regional semifinals at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.
"We're just going out to play," guard Kantrail Horton said. "We want to win now. That's all that matters. Respect, we should be done with all that."
The second-seeded Cyclones (31-4) felt slighted while they were knocking off one opponent after another en route to the Big 12 championship. They were picked no higher than sixth to start the season, and they didn't break into the Top 25 until Jan. 31.
But Iowa State has everyone's attention now - Fizer made the cover of Sports Illustrated - and they need just four more victories to win the national championship.
"We're playing good enough right now," Horton said. "We've got areas we need to work on, things we need to touch up. But I feel we're good enough to win four more games."
Iowa State's only two losses in the last 30 games were in overtime on the road.
The Cyclones lost in double overtime at Oklahoma after missing a layup and a free throw that would have won it. They were beaten at Colorado when the Buffaloes' Jacquay Walls made a running 35-footer at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
"We've earned our stripes, just like UCLA has," Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy said. "I think both teams have been in comparable situations.
"We're there now. Everybody respects everybody. The better team will win."
Iowa State got a pep talk from athletic director Gene Smith last week before starting the tournament. Smith has two national championship rings from his days as a football player and coach at Notre Dame, and he talked about how much they meant to him and how it felt to win them.
"I just told them as they go through this to try to find some time to cherish this opportunity," Smith said. "There's a lot of kids that don't get this. There's 16 teams left. If you have an average of 15 per team, there's just not a whole let of kids that get that opportunity to chase the dream."
His talk made an impact, Horton said.
"It really opened our eyes," he said. "It made us believe we really can do something. If you get that ring, people can't ever take that away from you. It just motivated us to work harder."
Iowa State has turned it on this season after going 15-15 a year ago and not even making the NIT. Eustachy, who's in his second season, said much of the credit goes to former coach Tim Floyd, now with the Chicago Bulls.
It was Floyd, Eustachy pointed out, who recruited most of the teams key players: Fizer, Stevie Johnson, Michael Nurse, Martin Rancik and Paul Shirley, who was a valuable performer until breaking a foot late in the season.
Eustachy brought in Horton, point guard Jamaal Tinsley and reserves Brandon Hawkins and Richard Evans to complete the mix.
"He has a big piece of this," said Eustachy, once an assistant to Floyd at Idaho State. "He's why we're going to Auburn Hills. It really happens a lot. Somebody takes your place and it's tough to pull for them. But nobody in the history of coaching has pulled more for the team he left than Tim Floyd.
"It means a lot to us. He faxed us a note before we played Auburn (last Saturday) and he was on the road. It's just a nice, nice relationship."
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer