This week at Hilton Coliseum is incredibly important for the Iowa State women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament resume.
The Cyclones want to get back on track, break a two-game losing streak, and avoid losing more home games ahead of the post-season.
They got the first of two wins against the pair of Oklahoma’s Big 12 schools on Wednesday night, beating Oklahoma State 74-63 and sweeping the Cowgirls on the year.
“At the end of the season, you look at how many sweeps did we get and how many sweeps did we avoid,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said. “Obviously, we had the chance to sweep Oklahoma State (tonight) knowing that Oklahoma was coming.”
The Cyclones face-off with the Sooners on Saturday and a loss Wednesday would have taken away a lot of opportunities for the team.
Instead, they led throughout the game, taking care of business against a 3-7 OSU squad.
“Then you look at what comes beyond that,” Fennelly said. “We’re going to Texas and to TCU – who are in second and third place.”
It was inherently important that Iowa State won so that they could stay in an optimal spot in both the Big 12 standings and the grand scheme of things.
Assistant Coach Billy Fennelly put up a graphic in the locker room that was headlined with the phrase, “Win the week.”
It included the Big 12 standings at the start of the week, which bunched Iowa State together with Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are also playing the Cowgirls and Sooners in back-to-back games this week.
The staff at Iowa State is viewing it as if it was a four-team November tournament.
“It was just to show them (that) this is where we are,” Bill Fennelly said. “Saturday at 4:00 p.m., we’re going to be (anywhere from) fourth to seventh place. Sweeping Oklahoma State is great, but if you give it right back on Saturday, that’s not what you want to do.”
Sophomore Ashley Joens led the team with 23 points and 14 rebounds, playing nearly the entire 40 minutes per usual.
Joens may not admit it, but the demanding schedule and lack of depth are wearing a bit on the Cyclones.
“We’re gassed,” Fennelly said. “Our kids are exhausted. I didn’t do a very good job at the end. I should have called a couple of timeouts.”
The Cyclones will have to continue finding ways to battle that, though.
Wednesday, Fennelly used freshman Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw at the point guard spot for all but six minutes of the game.
It was something they tried early in the season but quickly went away from as she had to adjust to the faster pace and physicality of college basketball.
Now, with Rae Johnson trying to battle back from an injury, Fennelly’s hand was forced.
“(Johnson’s) going to fight it all season,” Fennelly said. “She’s feeling fine, but her conditioning level will never get to the point where she can (fully) go.”
Espenmiller-McGraw finished the game with 18 points and seven assists, but she also conceded 14 turnovers to Oklahoma State’s defense.
That’s a high number, but it didn’t bother Fennelly.
“I thought (Espenmiller-McGraw) was really good,” Fennelly said. “She had a lot of turnovers. Some of them were her fault. I would say most of them were my fault, because of the position I put her in, and her teammates didn’t help her out a lot.”
Fennelly knew that he would almost be throwing the freshman to the dogs moving her to the No. 1 position.
Although the turnover number isn’t ideal, it seems like the Cyclones’ offense found a flow.
Outside of the win against 1-8 Kansas, the team finished with their highest point total in three weeks.
“It was the first game where we said, we’re going to roll with her,” Fennelly said. “Tonight was her time and I thought she impacted success in a really good way.”
Saturday will tell if Esepnmiller-McGraw can help the Cyclones rise to the occasion in the Big 12 standings.
|Big 12 WBB Standings|
Upcoming Big 12 Schedule
Saturday, Feb. 08
2:00 p.m. | Oklahoma (4-5) @ Iowa State (4-5)
2:00 p.m. | Baylor (8-0) @ Kansas State (3-5)
2:00 p.m. | West Virginia (4-4) @ Oklahoma State (3-6)
5:00 p.m | TCU (7-2) @ Kansas (1-8)
Sunday, Feb. 09
1:00 p.m. | Texas (6-3) @ Texas Tech (7-2)