Late comeback not enough, No. 20 Iowa State falls to No. 1 Baylor

Then Sophomore Rae Johnson moves up the court during the Cyclones game against Baylor on Feb. 23 at the Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones lost 60-73.

Spencer Suckow

Too little, too late.

Despite a comeback effort late in the game by No. 20 Iowa State, it wasn’t enough to overcome three quarters of poor play as the Cyclones fell to No. 1 Baylor at home 73-60.

The Cyclones made things interesting after trailing the Lady Bears by as many as 21 points, cutting the deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to overcome an all-around poor offensive effort. The 60 points are the lowest total that Iowa State has scored at home this season and the second-lowest output overall in the 2018-19 year.

Things get even worse in the boxscore, as Iowa State shot 31.7 percent from the field on Saturday and a porous 18.5 percent from three, both season-lows. There were also multiple occasions where the Cyclones went several minutes without a made basket, including one stretch where team went nearly seven minutes without a made field goal.

“Obviously Baylor is an outstanding team; they’re number one in the country for a reason,” said Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly. “I thought we competed. We were tough-minded, but it’s a make-shot-miss-shot game and we missed a lot of shots.”

Fennelly went on to credit Baylor’s defense for forcing the Cyclones’ hand and causing those missed shots, which the Lady Bears did right from the get-go by jumping out to an early 12-2 lead. That early punch to the mouth set the tone for the entire game, as the Cyclones looked out of sync for almost the whole game.

While Baylor is the top team in America and has arguably the Big 12’s best defense, it was still a surprise to see Iowa State, the conference’s top offense in term’s of scoring average, look so out of sorts. Especially after the team averaged 90 points over the last two games.

On top of that the team’s starting five struggled mightily after all five players scored in double digits on Wednesday. Bridget Carleton and Alexa Middleton scored a combined 42 of the 60 points, but the other three starters combined for seven points.

The struggles got to the point where the Cyclones went to a completely different type of lineup than what the team normally does, playing with two post players instead of the four guard lineup that the team normally rolls out.

“Some of the stuff that we had worked on, we couldn’t get into.” Fennelly said. “We went to a bigger lineup because our wing kids just weren’t giving us much. We moved Bridget to the three, tried to change our angles a little bit and open up the wing with the ball screen to pick-and-pop.”

That strategy did pay some dividends, as the Cyclones clawed back into the game in part by giving extended minutes to Ines Nezerwa and Meredith Burkhall. Nezerwa ended up having her best game of conference play, pitching in nine points and five rebounds.

While the Cyclones did get some good minutes from their bench, the team knows full well it needed to have all five starters playing at their highest level to beat a team like Baylor. The only player that seemed up to that challenge was Carleton, who scored nearly half the team’s points with 28.

At certain points of the game, it seemed as if Carleton was the entire Cyclones team. She scored 14 of the Iowa State’s 17 third quarter points, and she scored 20 in the second half overall. While the rest of the Cyclones lagged behind, Carleton was determined to at least give the team a fighting chance.

“I was just trying to attack the rim and get something going,” Carleton said. “We were stagnant on offense in the first half so just attacking when they were closing in on me. Just trying to take what they were giving me.”

Eventually, that hard work from Carleton paid off and the rest of the team started to show some life, cutting the lead to down to nine points midway through the fourth quarter to give Hilton Coliseum a glimpse of hope. 

Baylor, however, did what great teams do and quickly put a dagger in the Cyclones to squash that hope. Juicy Landrum hit a three to push the deficit back to 12, and all of the momentum seemed to vanish as Baylor essentially ran out the clock.

The Cyclones are a good basketball team, but there might not be a single team in the country that’s good enough to play poorly against Baylor for three quarters and win. The team knows this, and Saturday will ultimately go down as a missed opportunity.

However, instead of choosing to dwell on what went wrong, the Cyclones are taking whatever positives they can from the experience. Primarily, they didn’t quit when they easily could have.

“We showed some toughness, we cut it back to nine and got the crowd going,” Middleton said. “I think it just shows what we’re capable of, and we’ve got to have that performance to win games.”