In a game that saw the Big 12's two leading scorers go head-to-head, it was the secondary options that made the difference.
Iowa State's Bridget Carleton and Oklahoma State's Vivian Gray, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference in terms of scoring average, both put on a show Saturday by combining for 55 points. Gray led all scorers with 31 points, and Carleton countered with 24, which included a buzzer-beater to end the first half that seemed to defy the laws of physics.
But while Gray won the scoring battle, it was Carleton's team who won the game with the Cyclones taking an 89-67 win. And it was largely because of who else scored besides Carleton for the Cyclones. Iowa State had five players score in double figures, including four with 14 points or more, while the Cowgirls had two.
That lack of balance proved fatal for Oklahoma State once the Cyclones clamped down on Gray in the second half, and the Cyclones gradually pulled away for an easy win as a result. Which was much needed after the team dropped a winnable game on the road to TCU on Wednesday.
"[Coach Bill Fennelly] talked to us about how we needed to be the most motivated team in the country today," said senior guard Alexa Middleton "I think we showed that. Overall, we played really well, we played really strong. We just meshed."
The offensive balance was especially impressive when taking into account how that game against TCU went. Iowa State essentially found itself in the same position on Wednesday as Oklahoma State today, relying too heavily on its star player to carry the load offensively.
It wasn't that the Cyclones weren't moving the ball or getting open looks then, its just that the team outside of Carleton and Kristin Scott couldn't convert them. On Saturday however, Iowa State got those same looks and knocked them down early and often, playing at fast pace while hitting nearly 50 percent of its shots as a team.
Equally impressive was the Cyclones' second-half team defense, which adjusted nicely after allowing Gray to score 20 points in the first half. The Cowgirls are last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage, and once Iowa State focused in on Gray and essentially forced the rest of the Cowgirls to try and step up, Oklahoma State couldn't capitalize.
"Basically, we just started switching screens, making sure we were sticking to what we were doing," said sophomore forward Kristin Scott. "They're going to get their shots, they can shoot, but I thought we were very locked in and everyone did their job well."
In the grand scheme of this season, Saturday's performance wasn't only important for getting back on track and staying in the top three of the Big 12 standings, but it was also important for any potential post season run for Iowa State.
The NCAA Tournament Selection committee released its current top 16 teams this week, of which Iowa State was included. What's important about that is the fact that, if the Cyclones are among the top 16 teams, then Iowa State gets to host the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament at Hilton Coliseum.
This differs from the men's game, which plays all NCAA Tournament games at a neutral site. Playing at home for the first two rounds would obviously be huge for the Cyclones, as Iowa State is now 15-1 on the season at home. However, the loss to TCU likely put a dent in that goal.
With its impressive display on Saturday, though, Iowa State put itself on track to still attain that goal with a strong finish to the season.
"It was a game that we really needed, obviously," Fennelly said. "The biggest thing, what we try to do is say they've worked really hard to put themselves in a position to have a chance to do some fun things, so let's find a way to finish it."