Believe it or not, Saturday’s contest between No. 22 Iowa State and West Virginia might be the Cyclones’ most important conference game in years.

That may sound like hyperbole, but there’s a case to be made when looking at past results. For all of the success that Bill Fennelly has had at Iowa State, the Cyclones have mostly been a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big 12 since 2010, with their best record this decade coming in 2012-13, when the team finished 24-9.

That team also had Iowa State’s best conference record this decade at 12-6, and it was the last Iowa State team to finish second or higher in the Big 12.

If the Cyclones win on Saturday, they’ll not only be on pace to best those record marks, but they’ll also be in great shape to get match that second-place finish from six years ago.

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Center Kristin Scott gets a rebound during the Iowa State vs Texas Tech women's basketball game Jan. 29 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones defeated the Red Raiders 105-66.

With Baylor ranked No. 1 in the country and the Bears currently running away with the Big 12, the three-way race for second place between Iowa State, West Virginia and Texas has become the perhaps the conference’s most intriguing storyline.

Texas is currently the highest ranked probably still the favorite between the three, and the Longhorns have wins at 8. However, Texas lost to West Virginia on Jan. 28 to split the season series, and all three teams currently have only three losses.

That’s part of the reason why Saturday is so important for the Cyclones. If Iowa State can beat West Virginia, it will move a full game ahead of the Mountaineers in the Big 12 standings. If Iowa State loses, however, it will essentially be two games back of the Mountaineers, given that West Virginia will have swept the season series.

That brings up another reason why this game is so important to Iowa State: the revenge factor. When these two teams met in Morgantown, West Virginia, Iowa State suffered what, to that point, had been its largest loss of the season.

In that game, Iowa State was held well below its season averages shooting-wise, making 33 percent of its field goals and 24 percent of its 3-pointers. The Big 12’s top scoring offense was held to 64 points, the team’s third lowest mark of the season, which is 18 points below the Cyclones current average output.

Before brushing that off as an rough night in a tough environment, just know that West Virginia has been doing that to opponents all season.

The Mountaineers are currently the best in the Big 12 when it comes to defensive scoring average this season at 52.4 points per game, which means that Saturday’s game will feature the top offense in the conference against the top defense.

On top of that, the Mountaineers aren’t exactly slouches on offense, either. West Virginia ranks fourth in the conference in points per game at 71.6, and its roster features four players in Tynice Martin, Naomi Davenport, Kysre Gondrezick and Katrina Pardee, who average double figures in scoring per game.

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Guard Bridget Carleton saves the ball from going out of bounds during the Iowa State vs Texas Tech women's basketball game Jan. 29 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones defeated the Red Raiders 105-66.

While the Iowa State’s defense is eighth of 10 teams in the conference in terms of scoring average, the Cyclones are third in the Big 12 opponent field goal percentage, behind West Virginia and Baylor. With all of these numbers added in, it’s safe to say that these two teams appear to be evenly matched on paper.

Fortunately for the Cyclones, Saturday’s pivotal matchup will be at home in Hilton Coliseum, where the team is 13-1 on the season. On top of that, both teams will be well-rested coming into the game. Iowa State’s most recent game was a win Saturday over Kansas State, while the Mountaineers won against Kansas on Sunday.

Tip off for the game will be at 6 p.m. Saturday from Hilton Coliseum, and the game will be broadcasted live on Cyclones.TV.

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