The Iowa State women’s basketball team has been in five of its six Big 12 losses. In each of those games, the Cyclones couldn’t consistently play at a high level throughout the entire 40 minutes and would watch the contests slip through their hands.
Against the No. 22 Kansas State Wildcats, that wasn’t the case for Iowa State. Unlike the previous conferences loses, the Cyclones were able to presevere in the final quarter and defeat the Wildcats, 75-69, in front of a raucous Hilton Coliseum crowd.
“I’m sure everyone’s lead was already being written about ‘Here (Iowa State) goes again,” said head coach Bill Fennelly.
Fennelly was referring to when Iowa State saw its fourth quarter six point lead morph into a Kansas State one point lead with 6:09 remaining in the game.
At that moment, Fennelly could feel that some his players were thinking, ‘Great here we go again. Lose another close Big 12 game.’ Fennelly has felt that in the previous five close league games. But for the first time in a while, Fennelly sensed that Jadda Buckley, Bridget Carleton and Seanna Johnson didn’t have that kind of mindset.
The trio seemed relaxed at that moment in time. They just did what they needed to do to ensure Iowa State didn’t let this game slip through its hands.
On the night, the Cyclones’ “Big Three” were effective all over the floor. Buckley, Carleton and Johnson scored 21, 14 and 13 points respectively. But they were efficient when it matter most.
“I thought Seanna Johnson was incredible in the second half,” Fennelly said. “I though the second half, (Johnson) was All-Big 12.”
Fennelly went onto praise Buckley hitting six big time late game free throws and Carleton hitting big time shots like she normally does.
While Johnson played lights out in the second-half, Iowa State also got the point forward type play it needed out of her for this game.
Kansas State runs a zone defense, which is uncommon in the Big 12. Fennelly felt that Johnson needed to have more assists than Buckley in this game if the Cyclones were to be effective. He got exactly that as Johnson dished out nine dimes while Buckley handed out five.
“Working with a 2-3 zone, you have to work inside-out,” Johnson said. “We got the ball in the inside and that created offense.”
Iowa State shot 51 percent from the field.
While the Cyclones carved the Wildcats’ bread and butter defense, they also were effective down low in the post against a stout Kansas State frontcourt.
“(Kansas State’s) Breanna Lewis is an All-Big 12 player,” Fennelly said. “In the past (Iowa State) have been overwhelmed on the block and we weren’t that way tonight at all. I thought that was a huge part of the game.”
In most of Iowa State’s Big 12 losses, it has lost the battle in the paint and on the boards. Although the Cyclones lost the war in the paint, they only were defeated by four points, 30-26. However, Iowa State did outrebound Kansas State, 31-23.
After the Baylor game, Iowa State discussed about moving forward and finishing the last five weeks strong. While this win certainly is a good step in the right direction, Fennelly was still a bit weary on if Iowa State’s step was good or not.
“I don’t know if we have gotten over the hump or not,” Fennelly said. “In the short-term, you doubt yourself but you also doubt your coaches, your teachers, your parents whoever when they tell you thinks over and over that doesn’t work. So I think they believe in each other a little bit more.”
Fennelly isn’t a coach who sees games a “must-wins”. But for the Iowa State players, this game seemed larger than normal.
“I think it’s huge for us,” Carleton said on closing out and winning the game. “The fourth quarter hasn’t been our friend the past couple games. It just showed our mental toughness throughout this game. We are just glad we got this win.”