After winning five of six to go from unranked to knocking at the door of the top 10, Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger says his No. 12 Cyclones aren’t done yet.

“They’ve got a rugged toughness to them,” he said of his players. “A togetherness. People talk about how connected we are. In 20 years of doing this, it’s probably the most connected group I’ve been around. There’s a togetherness and a unity that’s at a really, really special level to this group.

“We’re going to keep climbing.”

Iowa State (14-3, 5-1 Big 12) can take another step Saturday wsith a they take on Oklahoma State (10-8, 2-4) in Stillwater, Okla.

Not that any stretch can truly be considered a respite in the Big 12, but the game against the Cowboys marks the start of a stretch in which Iowa State faces three unranked in its next four games.

The Cyclones, who enter Saturday with a share of the Big 12 lead, are 10-1 against unranked teams this season. They are poised for their first winning record in the conference since 2016-17. This is a program that went 0-18 in 2020-21, the Big 12 the year before Otzelberger arrived.

“The job’s not finished,” senior guard Jaren Holmes said. “We worked hard to be in this position. We’ve got to keep pushing. We work hard. We put the work in. We wake up early mornings. We’re there. We put the work in. We deserve this because of our daily habits.”

Holmes is a big reason for the recent success.

The transfer from St. Bonaventure leads a balanced scoring attack, averaging 13.2 points and 3.1 assists. In Tuesday’s 78-67 win over No. 7 Texas, he had 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting.

But defense figures to play a major role in determining the outcome of Saturday’s game.

The Cyclones are in the top 10 nationally and lead the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing just 58.5 points per game.

Oklahoma State allows just62.1 points per game, ranking second in the conference. But the Cowboys’ offense has struggled, with their 68.2-point average last among Big 12 teams.

That offense came alive Wednesday in the second half of a 72-56 victory over rival Oklahoma. Oklahoma State scored 48 points after halftime to pull away and snap a three-game losing streak.

Like the team as a whole, Avery Anderson’s offensive game has been on a roller coaster this season.

In Oklahoma State’s first four Big 12 games, Anderson averaged just 5.0 points as he struggled with a wrist injury that limited him but didn’t keep him out of the lineup.

But his offense has picked up the past two games, including a 14-point, five-assist effort Wednesday.

“Avery’s getting back in his groove,” teammate Caleb Asberry said. “It’s good.”

Anderson’s defense has remained strong: He helped to hold Oklahoma’s Grant Sherfield scoreless in the second half Wednesday.

“That’s my thing,” Anderson said. “I take pride in locking up on the defensive end. Regardless of my injury, I’m always locking up on the defensive end.”

Last season against Iowa State, Anderson had a career-high 34 points, hitting five 3-pointers in Stillwater, although Iowa State won, 84-81. The Cowboys later won at Iowa State, 53-36.

–Field Level Media