Hubalek has pivotal game for Cyclones
Greg McDermott and his Iowa State ballclub have North Dakota State to thank if Sunday proves to be an epiphany for Jiri Hubalek. The Bison helped teach the 6-foot-11 junior this valuable basketball lesson: It is easier to score 2 feet from the ba...
Greg McDermott and his Iowa State ballclub have North Dakota State to thank if Sunday proves to be an epiphany for Jiri Hubalek. The Bison helped teach the 6-foot-11 junior this valuable basketball lesson: It is easier to score 2 feet from the basket than 20 feet from the basket.
Given the big fellow's size, this would seem obvious to even the most casual hoops observer. But Hubalek, you see, is from the Czech Republic. And those European big men, oh, how they love to roam and gun outside the3-point stripe.
The Cyclones' 67-54 victory might prove to be the habit-breaker McDermott, Iowa State's first-year coach, has long-awaited.
Hubalek punished the Bison inside, scoring a career-high 19 points while missing several more easy chances. He also had 11 rebounds.
While Hubalek will make nobody forget Kevin McHale wheeling and dealing on the low block, the Bison had nobody to guard him. Lucas Moormann (6-9), Andre Smith (6-8) and Lorenzo Riley (6-6) all tried. All looked like a junior high kid guarding a high school senior.
"We want him to think block first and 3-point shot second. That's a lot easier said than done," McDermott said. "But he's bought into it. He can do something that nobody else on our team can do. He's the best low block scorer we have and we had a size advantage today and we went with it."
Hubalek's resume in Ames, at least until McDermott signed on, was drift to around the 3-point line and rarely allow his sneakers to find the paint. That was not something McDermott, a former post player himself at Northern Iowa, was going to stand for.
It hasn't been an easy ride. Hubalek sat out the first six games after violating an NCAA rule. Since returning eight games ago, McDermott's been relentless.
Hubalek played 16 minutes combined in Iowa State's previous two games. He played 32 minutes against NDSU.
"Jiri was rewarded for a couple of really good days of practice," McDermott said. "If you would have asked me at 11 o'clock on the night of Dec. 26 when we finished practice if Jiri Hubalek would've played 32 minutes today, I would've said you're crazy. We didn't get along very good that day. But he's gradually buying into what we're doing."
Hubalek was asked whether McDermott's been tougher on him than on other Cyclone players. There was a pause.
"Honestly?" Hubalek asked.
There was another, longer pause.
The press room erupted with laughter before Hubalek continued.
"He is trying to get me better and I really appreciate it. In the long run it is paying off and it is helping me to become a better player," Hubalek said in a thick Czech accent. "That's all that matters. I want to help the team as much as I can."
As for the Bison, giving up big nights to big men from big schools is not new. NDSU was unable to handle a pair of 7-footers from Colorado State.
Part of the problem is that mid-majors simply don't attract the big posts, the 6-11 or 7-foot kids who can match up against major-conference teams.
The other part of the equation on this day was that Miles and the Bison decided to take away Iowa State's 3-point shooting. The Cyclones tied the school record for treys in their previous game (13) and the Bison decided their poison would be Hubalek instead of Iowa State's shooters.
"We said, 'At least they're not beating us three at a time, at least they're not dunking all over us,' " Miles said. "Let's just make them go two at a time like that. In the chess match, it's give and take."
The Bison gave, Hubalek took and McDermott might be forever grateful.
Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or email@example.com