'Where’s the exit?': Why Iowa State's Hilton Coliseum has tortured OU basketball for the past decade
NORMAN — Cade Davis still has the videos on his cell phone.
Flares being lit in the cramped, cold gym. Firecrackers popping. Coins and cigarette lighters being hurled to the floor. Fights breaking out in the stands. Riot-shield equipped police ringing the floor. Games delayed to let the smoke clear or to evacuate fans that went overboard with the fighting.
Think the OU graduate assistant is going to be intimidated this weekend when the No. 9 Sooners take on Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum? No way, Davis has been to Macedonia.
“There would be times when you’re thinking, ‘Where’s the exit? Because things are about to get a little crazy,’” Davis said.
Hilton Coliseum has been the toughest place in the Big 12 this side of Allen Fieldhouse to escape with a win.
Going into Saturday's game (5 p.m., ESPN2), the Sooners haven’t beaten the Cyclones in Ames since 2011 — Davis’ senior year and the year before Lon Kruger took over after Jeff Capel’s firing.
Davis doesn’t remember a ton about that game more than a decade ago, other than Steven Pledger taking over the game. Pledger scored 38 points — 12 in overtime — to help OU pull out an 82-76 win.
“I contributed, I think, very little in terms of offensive firepower that game,” said Davis, who scored seven points that night. “Just know it’s always a tough place to play going up there into the cold.
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“Just the mental toughness that you have to have when you go into a place like that is key.”
Of course, a big part of the intimidation of Hilton Coliseum will be missing. The arena is normally packed when the Sooners come to town.
This year, the Cyclones are limiting attendance to less than 10% of the Hilton capacity of 14,384.
“I think probably as much as any team in the league, it seems like their teams get great energy from the Hilton crowd,” Kruger said. “It’s what home crowds go. The Iowa State guys seem to really feel off of that.”
Iowa State doesn’t quite have the same bite on the court, either.
The Cyclones have made the NCAA Tournament seven times since the streak began, but at 2-15 overall and 0-12 in Big 12 play, Iowa State will miss the tournament for just the second time since 2011. Had the tournament been held, the Cyclones would’ve missed last year as well.
Though Davis never played for Kruger, he’s remained a steady part of the program, thanks initially to Steve Henson.
Henson, Kruger’s longtime assistant who is in his fifth season as the head coach at Texas-San Antonio, helped Davis prepare for his professional career right after Kruger and his staff came aboard.
Though much of the focus was on the current team, Henson’s willingness to help the player he had never and would never coach made an impression.
And Davis spent plenty of time working out in Norman while working in the offseason preparing for overseas stops in not only Macedonia but Greece, Finland, Italy, Cyprus, Belgium and Malaysia.
When he returned from playing in Kuala Lumpur about a year ago, as COVID-19 went from being a concern in Asia to a global pandemic, Davis started to make the mental move from being a basketball player to a coach.
Davis had spent time talking with Kruger about the possibility in recent years, laying the groundwork for the transition.
And he’d been thinking about it plenty as he played.
“I tried to prepare myself as best I could for the next phase,” Davis said. “I’m happy with the decision moving forward. It’s difficult at times because that (playing)’s something you’ve always done and of course loved, but now it’s time to give that back and help these other guys.”
And Davis is making an impact there.
“He’s been a great addition,” Kruger said. “He brings a positive attitude, a great energy every day in practice. Guys like him a lot. They relate to him. It’s been great to have him.”
Davis had known Brady Manek for several years, going back to his AAU days.
“It’s really cool to have someone here who has been here and has gone through it,” Manek said. “He has a good grasp of basketball.”