CycloneFanatic.com’s women’s basketball coverage for the 2010-11 season is brought to you by our good friends at Wilson Toyota in Ames.
By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
The Iowa State-Iowa women’s basketball rivalry is known for its close, back-and-forth battles, right?
Umm, not exactly.
In 40 all-time meetings, the average margin of victory is 15.2 points.
Don’t expect another lopsided affair in Iowa City on Thursday. The matchup marks the first time both teams are ranked heading into the game. The Cyclones (6-1) are No. 17, and the Hawkeyes (8-1) check in at No. 19 in the latest Associated Press Poll.
“I texted Kelsey Bolte (after the Michigan game) and told her to get the players ready,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “She said, ‘Too late, I already did it.”’
Iowa State enters the game as one of the stingiest teams in the country. A suffocating defense ranks seventh in the nation in field goal percentage against (31.5 percent), and 13th best in points against (50.7 per game).
On Dec. 5, Michigan (4-4) struggled to find any rhythm in its tilt with the Cyclones. After scoring 91 points and making 12 3-pointers against Wake Forest, the Wolverines went just 3-of-18 from behind the arc. Not coincidentally, the Cyclones won, 60-47.
While the defense does its part, the offense continues to search for answers. As a team, the Cyclones are averaging 62.0 points per game and shooting 41 percent from the field.
“The biggest challenge for us is, can we find a way to score,” Fennelly said. “We’ve obviously been offensively challenged at times, to put it nicely.”
Thankfully for Iowa State, Kelsey Bolte wears Cardinal and Gold. The senior lead the team with 17.3 points per game, and at times has carried the Cyclones. Bolte will need more help on Thursday in Iowa City.
Scouting the Hawkeyes
Iowa’s Kachine Alexander is impossible to guard. At least that’s what Bill Fennelly thinks.
An all-Big Ten pick by the coaches last season, she is averaging 14.4 points per game and can score from anywhere on the court. Remember, Alexander didn’t play in last year’s 85-66 Cyclones victory.
“You put a big kid on her, she’s going to go by you,” Fennelly said. “You put a small kid on her, and she’s going to overpower her. She’s a hard guard for us. Luckily, she didn’t play in last year’s game. That’s probably the best way to guard her.”
Alexander isn’t the only weapon on the roster. The Hawkeyes return all but one player who logged significant minutes for last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Iowa’s Jaime Printy (15.6 ppg), Kamille Wahlin (12.4), Morgan Johnson (11.2) and Kelly Krei (10.0) all average double digit points for the Hawkeyes.
If a team falls behind Iowa, there is little chance of a comeback by fouling. The Hawkeyes simply don’t miss from the free-throw line, shooting 80.4 percent from the stripe – 5th best in the country.
“Their free throw numbers are video-game like,” Fennelly said.
To overcome Iowa’s strong guards, the Cyclones need better post play. Iowa State should own an advantage down low with Anna Prins (7.9 ppg), Hallie Christofferseon (10.1 ppg) and Chelsea Poppens (7.0 ppg).
“I think we need to build up our confidence,” Poppens said. “In practice, we need to work on making the easy shots and fundamentals.”
At home on the court
The only thing giving Lauren Mansfield trouble these days is the cold weather. The Australia native continues to excel on the court.
Matt Shoultz, Iowa State’s Assistant Director of Athletics Communication, came up with this brilliant stat: So far this season, Mansfield has had a hand in 44.5 percent of the Cyclones’ points. That number includes any play where Mansfield scores or dishes out an assist.
“She’s been doing awesome,” Poppens said. “She’s a very smooth point guard. She doesn’t make many turnovers. She gets you the ball when you need it the most. She’s just very confident in what she does.”
When Iowa State traveled to Northern Iowa earlier this season, there were more Cyclone fans in the stands than Panther fans. Expect another full Iowa State contingent in Iowa City. Six buses will load up in Ames and head over.
Cyclone players notice the great fan support.
“It’s awesome,” Anna Prins said. “I remember at (Northern Iowa) looking out and there were so many fans. It’s really encouraging to know that we have fans that stand behind us every game. Even when we are traveling far, we know they are cheering us on. It makes it more motivating to play sometimes.”
The last time Iowa State traveled to Iowa City, it got throttled. Fennelly admitted he put together a poor game plan for the 2008 matchup. The 15-year coach is too good to let that happen again.
Look for Fennelly to improve to 11-4 all-time against the Hawkeyes.
Prediction: Iowa State 67, Iowa 62.