The Iowa State women started the 2018-19 basketball season off with a bang.
The Cyclones rolled through a non-conference schedule that was ranked 10th nationally, scurried to a No. 6 rating in the NCAA’s RPI and finished with a 10-2 record.
On Wednesday, things will shift gears as conference play kicks off at Hilton Coliseum vs. Kansas State (6:30 on Cyclones.tv), who just like Iowa State finished Big 12 play at 7-11 last season.
“I think playing a tough non-conference schedule helps a lot,” sophomore forward Madison Wise said. “I don’t think there’s a huge shift, but just paying attention to the scouting report is important. Games come twice a week.”
“Their system is one where they are going to play a lot of different defenses,” Fennelly said. “They’re going to play man. They’re going to play zone. They always junk us.”
In the past, Iowa State has been given fits trying to get around the Wildcats’ defense. K-State is known for controlling the ball and keeps most games in the 50 or 60-point range, like last year’s 67-60 loss for the Wildcats at home for ISU.
“We have more of a balanced offensive team than what we’ve had,” Fennelly said. “Some of their junk has really hurt us in the past because we haven’t had that versatility. I think this year we’re a little more prepared for it.”
Kansas State is led by point guard Kayla Goth and post player Peyton Williams. The two led KSU in scoring, averaging 11.6 points and 15.2 points per game, respectively.
“Peyton Williams in the post has had a really good year,” Fennelly said. “And Goth, her numbers are as good as any point guard. She’s always played great against us.”
The pair combined for 31 points last season in KSU’s victory in Ames. That’s where Iowa State’s emphasis of Hilton matchups comes into fruition.
Last year’s team beat the Wildcats on the road 80-45, but still dropped the home game. They finished with a 7-8 record at Hilton. Coming into Wednesday’s matchup, the Cyclones are 9-0 at home.
“We’ve got to just keep doing what we’re doing,” senior Bridget Carleton said. “We’ve had some big wins at home, so far. We don’t want to lose at home. We made that an emphasis at the beginning of the year [after last season].”
Since losing to Iowa, the team has gone on a four-game winning streak with a particular quarter standing out. In each game, the Cyclones have seemingly sped into an extra gear to widen games out in the second quarter.
The team played its best defensive quarter in the second frame in each of the four games and averaged just 6.5 points allowed over the winning streak.
“It’s probably a little bit coincidental, but I think at the same time, they get a better feel for, ‘This is what we have to do or can do,’” Fennelly said. “I think our team because of [Carleton, Middleton] and [Burkhall] and some of the other kids that have matured a little bit, they learn and get into the game with the adjustments that we make.”
Fennelly also joked that his pre-game speeches aren’t working to their full effect, but Carleton took the unique stat as a sign that the Cyclones need to start things off faster.
“I think we would like to have better first quarters,” Carleton said. “We want to play four full quarters and I don’t think we’ve been able to that yet this year.”
As conference play begins, Fennelly wants his team to improve on three point shooting, as well. The team is currently shooting at a 31 percent clip behind the arc.
“That is by far not good enough,” Fennelly said. “It really isn’t. I think right off the bat, we’ll find out because K-State plays a really good zone [defense]. You’re going to have to make some shots if the shots are there.”
Fennelly thinks his team is taking the right shots, but the wrong players are shooting them.
For comparison, 16 of Fennelly’s 17 NCAA Tournament teams finished the season shooting at least 33 percent from downtown while usually converting at a higher rate than that.
“I think all of [the shooters] have proven they can make that shot, but that percentage has got to go up,” Fennelly said. “Now, going into conference play, that percentage has got to go up. The defense is going to get better. If we’re going to be a good team that number has got to get into the 33-36 percent range in conference play or we can’t do the things that we can.”