Homeward bound

Jeremy Gustafson

Iowa State recovered on the road, and it looks like now it will play at home the rest of the season; that is if there are no more bumps at Hilton Coliseum.

The No. 13 Cyclones, coming off a 62-52 win at Missouri, will host Kansas on Saturday and Baylor Feb. 27, marking the first time since ISU head coach Bill Fennelly has been here that the team has finished the regular season at home.

Then it’s on to the Big 12 Conference Tournament, another place where Iowa State feels right at home.

“It’s as close to Hilton as it can be for an away game,” ISU center Angie Welle said of Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., host of the women’s Big 12 tournament.

In last season’s championship game, pitting Iowa State against Oklahoma, a decidedly Cyclone partial crowd of 8,153 drowned out the Sooner cheers. Instead of `Boomer-Sooner’ when the OU band played, the chant turned to `Let’s go State.’

The Cyclones came out victorious, 68-65, in the closest Big 12 tournament championship game ever.

After the Big 12 tournament comes the NCAA Tournament. If the Cyclones stay in the top 16, they will host the first two rounds. Wins there will place them in the Midwest Regional hosted by Iowa State.

“We have everything to play for,” Fennelly said. “If you can’t get up for that, I don’t what you can get up for.”

While the road to the Final Four literally could go through Iowa State, first thing is first, the Kansas Jayhawks are still the next opponent. Worrying about seeding and all that other stuff is just trivial.

“It’s too late in the year to look past anyone,” Fennelly said.

A loss to Kansas (0-14, 5-22) would all but seal the fact that the Cyclones are going to be playing on the first day of the Big 12 tournament. Only the top four seeds get a bye; Iowa State sits in fifth place with an 8-6 conference record (20-6 overall), a game behind Baylor.

“To be honest with you, I don’t care. It’s probably easier for our fans to play on Wednesday,” Fennelly said. “I like going to Kansas City. If we have to go a day early, it’s OK with me. We could end up with a real solid record in the conference and be a fifth seed in the tournament.”

The Cyclones, with their 20 wins, joined an elite group, being one of only two Big 12 teams with 20 or more wins five years in a row. Texas Tech is the other. The Lady Raiders have won 20 or more games 12 years in a row (including a national title in 1992-93) but are 16-9 this season and in jeopardy of seeing that streak end.

“It sounds good, and I think we can keep going,” Welle said. “It gives a lot of credit to coach Fennelly and how he has turned this program around.”

The quest for 21 and beyond starts at 7 p.m. Saturday. Iowa State has one win over the Jayhawks already this year, coming out victorious in Lawrence, Kan., 75-70 on Feb. 6.

The Cyclones can’t look at the past, though, it is time to start preparing for the present and future.

“You’ve got to start putting your tournament game face on,” Fennelly said. Right now he doesn’t think the team is there, but close.

“I think we’ll play well on Saturday,” he said.

Welle is just happy to be home.

“We have to take advantage of playing at home,” she said. “You never want to lose a game at home.”

The Cyclones rarely do. Since 1998-99 Iowa State is 56-3 in Hilton Coliseum, two of those losses coming this season, to Kansas State and Texas Tech.

“We said we were not gonna let that happen again,” Welle explained.

If that holds true, a spot in the Final Four will be waiting.