By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
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AMES – It takes a full 40 minutes to win in the Big 12.
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly knows that better than anyone. Not only is Fennelly not getting that 40 minutes in games, but also in practice.
With six days left until the conference gauntlet starts, Iowa State is still searching for consistent effort. In Thursday’s 71-57 victory against New Hampshire, the Cyclones’ sloppy play left Fennelly fired up.
“This team does not know how to practice and that’s the way we play,” the 17-year head coach said. “And until we figure it out, we can’t win one Big 12 game the way we play and the way we practice. It’s embarrassing.”
Iowa State’s (8-2) final tune-up before Wednesday’s Big 12 opener at Oklahoma is Friday when the Cyclones host Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. in the final game of the Cyclone Challenge. Iowa State is now 15-0 all-time in its own tournament, not that it mattered to Fennelly afterward.
“This is not the way Iowa State plays because we don’t practice right and we don’t compete right,” Fennelly said. “If they don’t want to do it my way, then they’re not going to be around.”
Fennelly said the problems start in practice and carry over to games. Whether it’s physical or mental, he doesn’t know.
“We have to push ourselves harder,” Chelsea Poppens said. “When the Big 12 starts, it’s going to be hard.”
Poppens might be the only one who doesn’t need to worry about working harder in practice. The junior carried the Cyclones again, this time scoring 14 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. A knee injury is still lingering for Poppens, but that’s not affectiving her productivity.
“Chelsea Poppens goes out there and competes on one leg,” Fennelly said. “She plays harder by herself then the rest of the team does together. And it’s wrong. And it’s my fault.”
The Cyclones led throughout the game on Thursday, but they could never establish a rhythm. Iowa State shot just 37 percent from the field, were outscored in the paint 26-14 and had more turnovers (16) than assists (12).
The game turned into a comfortable win thanks to a pair of freshmen and Poppens’ gritty performance. Nikki Moody started the Cyclones’ run with a 3-pointer from the top of key to push Iowa State’s lead to 44-34.
Brynn Williamson made it a 13-point advantage when she hit a trey, then scored inside to make it 49-36. A few possessions later, Poppens’ layup gave the Cyclones a 56-40 edge.
Iowa State held off New Hampshire for the win.
“We just all have to keep coming together,” Hallie Christofferson said. “We have to keep being enthused and fired up for practice.”
As if the game didn’t leave enough of a bad taste in Fennelly’s mouth, two players went down with injuries and Fallon Ellis sat out with the flu. Moody suffered an ankle injury after Chassidy Cole hurt her elbow. Fennelly said Cole will have x-rays and Moody should be OK.
Moody and Cole’s availability for Friday’s game is uncertain, but the goal doesn’t change for Fennelly.
“I want to see an Iowa State team,” he said. “I don’t care if we win or lose. I want to see us play the way Iowa State is supposed to play. If we don’t, then we are going to make a lot of changes. I’m talking about from one end of the bench to the other. It starts with the person in the middle and that’s me.”
“I can tell you, Chelsea Poppens will play. After that I’m not making any promises.”
Player of the game
It’s easy for Bill Fennelly to identify the one player he wants the rest of his team to emulate – Chelsea Poppens. The Aplington native is Iowa State’s most consistent player in both offense and effort.
Poppens recorded her fifth double-double of the season on Thursday with her 14 points and 16 rebounds. Poppens leads the Cyclones in points (14.3), rebounds (12.1) and hustle plays.
Fennelly is hoping her teammates start to bring the same intensity.
– Thursday’s victory was the Cyclones’ 599th in program history.
– Hallie Christofferson scored 15 points in only 18 minutes.
– Brynn Williamson added 14 points and Nikki Moody had 10.
– Official attendance for Thursday’s game was 7,475.
– Iowa State extended its streak of consecutive games with a 3-pointer to 527 games.
– Chelsea Poppens and Baylor’s Brittney Griner are the only two players in the Big 12 averaging a double-double. The No. 1-ranked Bears visit Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 7.
– Guard Jessica Schroll returned to the lineup after missing Iowa State’s last game with a back injury. Schroll scored six points in the win.
Iowa State will be looking for its eighth Cyclone Challenge championship on Friday when the Cyclones take on Buffalo. The Bulls (5-8) took down the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) in the first game on Thursday, 66-53.
Nytor Longer paced Buffalo in the win over NJIT with 19 points. Brittney Hedderson had 17 points, but went just 6-of-24 from the field. As a team, the Bulls shot 37 percent from the field and outrebounded NJIT 52-41.
Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 7:30 p.m.