The Iowa State Cyclones (12-8, 4-5 Big 12) will face the Oklahoma State Cowgirls (12-9, 3-6 Big 12) on Wednesday night at Hilton Coliseum.
The Cowgirls are coming in off three straight losses to Texas, TCU and Texas Tech.
Their last win came against an opponent that Iowa State struggled with on Sunday — the West Virginia Mountaineers.
“This is a big week for us, no question,” said coach Bill Fennelly. “Trying to compare scores in our league is impossible this year, so you just gotta go out there and compete.”
In their first meeting with the Cowgirls in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Cyclones pulled out a 64-63 victory. Oklahoma State led by 12 by the middle of the third quarter, but Iowa State showed its resilience, cutting that lead to one by the end of the period.
Iowa State eventually pulled out a late win thanks to an Ines Nezerwa layup with 30 seconds remaining.
Ashley Joens logged 37 minutes in that game, something that she does often for Iowa State. But in the loss to West Virginia on Sunday, Joens only played seven minutes in the first half due to three fouls.
“I can’t let that affect the way I play,” Joens said. “I just have to keep going out and playing the way I know how.”
It also didn’t help the Cyclones that Rae Johnson was playing in her first game since a back injury put her out. To couple that with other players that have limited minutes, it makes it tough to put a lineup out with players in the best position, which was the case on the court for the Cyclones against West Virginia.
“Basketball is a lot like life, I tell my players; you have to find ways to get through it, even when it gets tough,” Fennelly said.
When Joens returned for the second half when the Cyclones were down by nine, the offense looked out of rhythm. It wasn’t until a minute left when the team finally made its push. But it was too little, too late.
One bright spot did emerge from the game though.
Junior Kristin Scott stepped up in place of Joens, and had one of her best games of the season, scoring a team-high 16 points.
“She [Kristin] has the range, the game inside and can rebound,” Fennelly said. “When our team is at our best, she creates the matchup with Ashley that makes it hard for other teams to guard.”
Scott has been one of the top three-point threats for the Cyclones this season, despite playing the center position.
In the last game against Oklahoma State, she shot four of five from the three-point line.
It is a performance that Iowa State is hoping to see again against Oklahoma State.
“We just have to keep battling in there and knock down shots to build up that momentum,” Joens said.
But with the offensive promise comes a defensive concern for the Cyclones.
The Cyclones gave up 79 points to a West Virginia offense that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in scoring.
Oklahoma State holds the bottom spot of scoring in the conference, averaging 67.24 points per game.
But this game is an opportunity for the Cyclones to step up on that end of the floor.
“When our teams have really good, we’ve been really good at executing a game plan on how you guard certain people, and we haven’t done that this year,” Fennelly said.
Vivian Gray (19.8 point per game) and Natasha Mack (17.4 points per game) are the two players who scored the majority of Oklahoma State’s points.
Mack, six-foot-four inches tall and Gray, six-foot-one, pose some mismatches for Iowa State.
But Joens knows the Cyclones must play together to execute defensively.
“Defense turns into momentum for offense, so we just need to tie some stops together,” Joens said.
In one of the most competitive conferences in the nation, Iowa State will likely need nine or 10 wins in conference play to make the tournament, so every game counts, especially ones that are not favored in either way like this.
“Your record at the end of conference play is always dictated by who you sweep and who you allow to sweep you,” Fennelly said. “And you want to certainly be on the good side of that.”