Now that March has arrived, postseason basketball begins to inch closer and closer.
Even with the NCAA Tournament and the Big 12 Tournament on the horizon, there are still pivotal regular season games that still have to be played, some of which can determine the placing of where teams fall come postseason selection time.
This is true for the Iowa State Cyclones (16-11, 8-8 Big 12), who sit tied for fourth place in the Big 12 heading into this week. The Cyclones are looking forward to the NCAA Tournament, as they came in as an 11 seed in the latest ESPN Bracketology.
But they have a game ahead of them that they can’t afford to drop if they want to be in that spot come tournament time.
The Cyclones travel to Lawrence, Kansas, to face the last place Kansas Jayhawks (15-12, 4-12 Big 12) on Tuesday.
“When you look at what this team has been through from start to finish and to be still hanging around, it’s great to see,” said Head Coach Bill Fennelly. “This team has done it in a different fashion after starting 1-3 [in conference play]. But when it’s hard, you appreciate it a little bit more.”
Kansas does not have the makings of a typical last place team.
The Jayhawks are riding high, winning three of their last four games, including two straight victories over Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Iowa State, after an underwhelming offensive output in a loss against Kansas State to start the week, had a bounce back 61-58 win over West Virginia on Sunday.
“That week is a microcosm of our season,” Fennelly said. “We played bad on Wednesday and Kristin [Scott] got injured but then we turned in around on Saturday. But if anything that shows that we’re not going to win Tuesday just because we won the last one.”
Scott’s status for the Kansas game is uncertain. She has not practiced with the team since her injury but will make the trip. Fennelly said a decision will be made on Tuesday whether she will play or not.
Luckily for Iowa State, redshirt senior Ines Nezerwa has stepped up in Scott’s place.
Nezerwa finished with a career-high 14 points and 9 rebounds on Saturday. Five of those rebounds came on the offensive end. She even made her third three-pointer of the season.
“After losing three seniors, no one expected us to even be where we are,” Nezerwa said. “But we embrace who we are and never try being something we aren’t.”
Nezerwa could be in for another big game on the glass.
Kansas ranks at the bottom of the conference in rebounds, averaging 40.33.
For an Iowa State team that ranks third in rebounds allowed per game at 34.93, rebounding is an area where the Cyclones can get an edge.
“We really just need to you go out and compete,” Nezerwa said. “I think that’s what this team has done all year long.”
The NCAA Tournament is certainly on the minds of Iowa State. The Cyclones moved down from a No. 10 to No. 11 seed in the latest ESPN Bracketology.
For Iowa State, the win over West Virginia kept them in the playing field.
But a loss on Tuesday could take them out.
“I love everything about this program, it’s really a second family for me,” said Adriana Camber, another graduating senior for Iowa State. “I think you can really tell that by the way we play every night.”