Iowa State Cyclones center Audi Crooks (55) takes a shot around Oklahoma Sooners forward Kiersten Johnson (4) during the first quarter of a NCAA women’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 10 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — The Hilton Coliseum crowd rose to its feet to applaud dozens of former Iowa State women’s basketball players between the third and fourth quarters of Saturday’s game against No. 24 Oklahoma.
The Cyclones’ program commemorated 50 seasons of women’s basketball — and there have been lots of scintillating moments to celebrate. Saturday’s game wasn’t one of them. The Big 12-leading Sooners (17-6, 11-1) led by as many as 18 points and cruised to an 86-72 win over ISU (13-9, 7-5) before a crowd of 10,377.
“Those guys standing at half court getting recognized, I needed them in uniform tonight,” said Cyclone head coach Bill Fennelly, whose team has lost five of its past six games. “But no excuses. They were better in every area. Sometimes the stats don’t lie and it’s a hard stat line to find one thing that went our way. We turned the ball over too much. We got outrebounded. We missed 11 free throws. I don’t know how many layups we missed, and then every defensive mistake we made, they scored.”
Still, ISU kept hope alive deep into the third quarter. The Cyclones crafted a 9-2 run capped by backup center Isnelle Natabou’s layup, but the Sooners responded with a 10-0 spurt of their own fueled by two 3-pointers from former Cyclone Aubrey Joens. ISU couldn’t inch within single digits anytime after that and suffered its first conference home loss of the season.
“Yeah, the Big 12 is tough,” said Cyclone senior point guard Emily Ryan, who sank a season-high three 3-pointers, but also had four of her team’s 10 turnovers. “It’s a gauntlet. It’s gonna be a challenge and we knew that coming into the season, so when things are going great, you’ve got to ride that as long as you can, but when things aren’t going well, you’ve got to be able to dig yourself out of that. That’s something that we’re in right now and I have full belief in this team that we’ll do that.”
Freshman center Audi Crooks led ISU with 14 points, but Oklahoma was able to limit her looks and affect any shots she took. She finished with a season-low-tying three field goals, but scored eight points from the free throw line.
“There’s not a lot of game plans where you go in that you have to centralize a game plan,” said Sooners head coach Jenny Baranczyk, whose team won in Hilton for the first time since 2017. “And when you have to do that for a freshman, that’s a pretty big deal. From small-town Iowa, that’s a pretty big deal. And in the Big 12, a pretty big deal. So I feel like we had to adjust our game plan a little bit in the second half.”
That’s because Crooks is so difficult to stop — and creativity is required in order to curtail her production.
“People are starting to throw anything and everything they can in the post,” Crooks said. “And Oklahoma was pretty consistent with that double team no matter what.”
Ryan added 13 points for ISU, fellow senior Nyamer Diew chipped in 10, and freshman forward Addy Brown had nine points and nine rebounds.
But Oklahoma’s Payton Verhulst scored 25 points in 27 minutes while drilling six 3-pointers. Every time the Cyclones tried to muster a run, she or her teammates would counter with a rally-killing shot.
“We have to take ownership of what we’re doing,” Fennelly said. “Not everything we’re doing is bad. It’s just we’re not doing enough things right over 40 minutes to give ourselves a chance.”