Nearly halfway through Big 12 Conference play, the Iowa State women’s basketball team is in a good spot compared to last season.
The team currently sits with a 15-5 record overall and a 5-3 record against the Big 12, enough to earn them a spot at No. 23 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25. It’s a far cry from last year at this time, when the Cyclones were 9-11 through 20 games, with only a 2-6 record in conference play.
There are multiple reasons why the Cyclones have had such a drastic turnaround, but the biggest one might be the emergence of key players not named Bridget Carleton. As opposed to last season, Iowa State now has five starters capable of scoring in double figures on any given night, which allows the team to go to other options when Carleton is having an off night.
For as quick as Iowa State’s turnaround has been, however, their opponent Tuesday hasn’t had quite the same success coming off a lackluster season. While Texas Tech does already have more wins than last season, the Lady Raiders come into Tuesday’s game — the midway point of the Big 12 season — with only a 1-7 record.
With bigger challenges ahead, it’d be easy to think the Cyclones may be looking past their upcoming opponent. However, players say to look past Texas Tech’s record because the Raiders are closer than one might think.
“We’ve talked about that. Their conference record is 1-7 but all the games they’ve played in they’ve been close in the third or fourth quarter,” said redshirt senior guard Alexa Middleton. “They’re a team that is going to keep fighting. They play hard, they’ve got some people that can score the ball and they rebound the ball really well.”
Texas Tech rebounds the ball so well, in fact, that they’re first in the conference in offensive rebounding. The bulk of their work on the glass comes from two players in particular, Brittany Brewer and Zuri Sanders. Just from those two, the Raiders get a combined average of 21 rebounds per game.
While Sanders isn’t much of a scorer, Brewer is near the top in the conference with an average of 17.6 points per game. That average is good for fifth in the Big 12, and she’s doing it with a nearly 54 percent shooting percentage.
That number would lead most teams, but Brewer is actually second on the Raiders in points per game behind Chrislyn Carr, who trails only Bridget Carleton for the Big 12’s top scoring average at 19.7 points per game. If Carr’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably due to the fact that she’s actually a native of Davenport, Iowa, the same hometown as Cyclone coach Bill Fennelly.
Fennelly said the Cyclones never really looked too hard at Carr, due in large part to her early commitment to Texas Tech. However, Fennelly was very complimentary of Carr’s play, and said her scoring ability and willingness to shoot could cause problems if the Cyclones aren’t careful.
“The problem when you have players like that is you get so consumed by one person that you forget about everyone else,” Fennelly said. “You can’t keep her from shooting, so you’ve just got to make her hit tough ones, and when she takes a tough one, go rebound it. If you can do that, hopefully it’s enough.”
Fennelly wasn’t the only one aware of Carr’s scoring ability. Freshman Ashley Joens, a native of Iowa City, said that she’s known about Carr for a few years and added that following the coaching staff’s game plan will be key to keeping her in check.
“I played against her a little bit in AAU, and she’s just like a really quick athletic guard,” Joens said. “We just need to be able to guard her and follow the scouting report. Our coaches do a great job with that.”
Defensively, Fennelly said that Texas Tech is unique because of the matchup-zone that the team plays. While Kansas State plays a similar style, Fennelly said that the type of zone the Raiders play is different compared to other teams in the Big 12.
The matchup-zone that the Lady Raiders play, on top of their offensive rebounding and scoring capabilities, will likely provide more of a challenge than what some outside the program are anticipating.
As mentioned by Middleton and reiterated by Fennelly, Texas Tech is probably better than what its record indicates. Outside of its game against Baylor, every Texas Tech loss has been by less than 10 points. At some point, it seems inevitable that the Lady Raiders will steal a game.
If the Cyclones don’t want it to happen to them, they know that they’ll need to give Tech their full attention.
“We’ve got to go our there and stay poised, stick to what we plan to do and just play basketball,” Middleton said.