AMES — Having the experience of playing previously on the big stage in the NCAA Tournament often pays dividends for teams when it comes to making deep runs in March.
The problem is, for the Iowa State women, they lack that experience.
Just four players on this year’s 12-person active roster logged minutes in Iowa State’s 85-65 loss in the 2017 NCAA Tournament to Syracuse.
Bridget Carleton and Meredith Burkhall combined for 21 points in 53 minutes of action. Beyond that, Adriana Camber scored one point and logged 11 minutes along with Nia Washington, who had one minute of playing time.
Not exactly a large sample size.
Senior point guard Alexa Middleton has made runs with Tennessee Lady Volunteers.
In Middleton’s three seasons at UT, her team made runs to the Elite Eight twice and another to the Round of 32 during her junior year.
When the Cyclones start their Tournament run on Saturday against the 14-seed New Mexico State, they will need that experience.
“I’ve been in these situations before,” Middleton said. “[I’m] just being a senior leader on this team and trying to give some advice and pointers here and there to the younger girls who haven’t been there before.”
The biggest thing that the Tennessee native wants her team to focus on is the scouting report.
After the team saw their draw for Saturday on Monday afternoon, they had the week to prepare for a completely new team they hadn’t faced in recent memory
“Absolutely nothing,” Carleton said of her knowledge about the Aggies. “I know they won their conference, but that’s about it.”
The importance will come in later rounds as well.
If the Cyclones defeat the Aggies Saturday, and they’re favored to by 27.5 points, they’ll advance to the second round and have just one day in between games to get things ready.
“[What’s important is] mostly just the level of focus we have to have this time of year on the scouting reports and what we’re trying to do as team – just staying focused on that,” Middleton said.
If eyes weren’t already on Middleton because of the vast amount of tournament time she brings to the team, they will be based on her performance as of late.
Her season started out slowly, due to a lingering injury from the off-season, and she was only playing 20 minutes per game. But as the season grew on, Middleton’s minutes and numbers sky-rocketed.
“She’s a huge reason as to why we’re here,” Carleton said. “We wouldn’t have finished second in the conference without her.”
Middleton played nearly 40 minutes in each of Iowa State’s three Big 12 Tournament games, commanding the offense with poise, like she’s done all season. Not to mention, she helped the team with 24 and 18 points, respectively, in their last two games against tournament teams in Texas and Baylor.
“[Her experience] helps a lot,” Fennelly said. “She’s been there. She’s done it. She did it for Tennessee for three years, and I think our seniors get it. They’re not afraid of the moment. They’re not afraid for it to end. They want to go out swinging [like] we did in the Big 12 Tournament.”
Middleton and the Cyclones start the journey against New Mexico State on Saturday evening at approximately 5:00 p.m. (30 minutes following the tipoff of the game prior to there’s) on ESPN2.