By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Bill Fennelly is now one win shy of 500 for his career.
It might still be two if not for Kelsey Bolte and a suffocating defense on Saturday night. Iowa State overcame a sloppy first half to beat Western Illinois in its season opener, 58-32.
The Cyclones held the Leathernecks to six points in the second half, and outscored Western Illinois 27-6 in the final 20 minutes.
“I don’t care who you play, you hold someone to six points, that’s pretty good,” Fennelly said.
That’s an understatement. The Iowa State defense was nothing short of dominating after halftime. Western Illinois made just two shots from the field, and finished the game 12-of-47.
“We definitely stepped up the aggressive defense in the second half,” Bolte said. “I think they had four points in 17 minutes. We changed defense more in the second half and I think that really helped us out.”
It looked like the game could go down to the wire in the first half. The Leathernecks worked the shot clock with success, and only trailed Iowa State 31-26 at the break.
Western Illinois used the same strategy after halftime, except there was a big difference – the Leathernecks couldn’t make a shot. After a bucket with 17:41 left in the second half, Western Illinois didn’t score again until the clocked showed 2:55 remaining.
“Frustrating them when we play good defense helps us a lot,” Chelsea Poppens said. “I think we did a really good job, especially in the second half.”
Fennelly will go for win number 500 on Monday night against Drake. As if that wasn’t motivation enough, the Cyclones owe the Bulldogs one after losing 78-75 in Des Moines last season.
Player of the game
Kelsey Bolte said she hasn’t been shooting the ball well in practice lately. That changed quickly on Saturday night.
The Cyclones’ lone senior went 6-of-6 beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 25 points.
“I’ve been kind of cold lately,” Bolte said. “To come out and hit my first six 3-pointers felt pretty good. Hopefully, I can keep it up.”
Bolte kept Iowa State in the game during a tight first half. She hit the Cyclones’ first field goal of the game when she buried a 3-pointer. A few possessions later, Bolte drilled her third 3-pointer to push Iowa State ahead 13-6.
The Ida Grove native scored 14 points in the first half when the game was still close.
“We’re lucky Kelsey Bolte is on our team,” Fennelly said. “It was a great performance. I couldn’t be more happy for her.”
Bolte carries a heavy burden for Iowa State. She is the only player on the roster who is not in their first or second year suiting up for the Cyclones. The pressure to perform could stifle some players, but Bolte played loosed on Saturday night.
“Kelsey Bolte is a really, really special kid,” Fennelly said. “She’s a really good player, but she’s so much more of a person.”
Hallie Christofferson is making an early impact for the Cyclones. The freshman started her first career game on Saturday and scored eight points.
“The exhibition games helped a lot to get the nerves out – the freshman jitters out,” Christofferson said.
Christofferson helped spark Iowa State after halftime. She hit three free throws to start the half and push the Cyclones’ lead to 34-26. Later, Christofferson swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make the score 47-30.
“I thought Hallie gave us a tremendous amount of energy to start the second half,” Fennelly said. “She hit some free throws. She hits a three. Athletically she can defend.”
Bill Fennelly made sure to save a couple of emails he received when he recruited Chelsea Poppens. Apparently, some fans didn’t think she was good enough to play for the Cyclones and made sure to let Fennelly know that.
Those same fans are likely typing a different email today. Poppens played her usual all-out game Saturday night, contributing nine points and eight rebounds.
“Poppens is always all over the floor,” Fennelly said. “She epitomizes what we all want our team to be about – play hard, do it the Iowa State way.
“We got a lot of grief when we recruited her. I think those people don’t agree with the emails they sent now.”
– Lauren Mansfield played another solid game at point guard for Iowa State. In 36 minutes, she dished out nine assists.
– Jessica Schroll made the play of the game when she blocked a Western Illinois shot and raced the other way for a layup. The sophomore chipped in five points and seven rebounds in the win.
– The official paid attendance on Saturday was 9,455