No. 20 Iowa State faces daunting task with No. 2 Baylor

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly gives direction to his team on defense following a made shot against Kansas.

Spencer Suckow

Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly wasn’t exactly excited to talk about the Cyclones’ upcoming game against Baylor at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“Do we have to?” Fennelly said jokingly when the subject was brought up.

Sure, it was a joke, but most jokes have at least a little bit of truth behind them. This was no different. Fennelly knows how daunting the task in front of the team is this week. Not only will the No. 20 Cyclones have to play against the No. 2 team in the country on the road on Wednesday, but they’ll be doing so with recent history against them.

Since their last win against Baylor nearly four years ago, the Cyclones have become somewhat of a punching bag to the Bears. In the six games since that victory, Iowa State has lost to Baylor by an average of nearly 30 points per game. There’s really no outliers in that span, either. The closest game between the two was a 16-point Baylor victory back in 2016.

Needless to say, the beatdowns have been pretty consistent, but Fennelly said that it will be important for the Cyclones to ignore the name on their opponent’s jersey and any prior history between the two teams on Wednesday.

“They should not be able to break your will to compete,” Fennelly said. “I think that’s what Baylor does to people. You’re beat before you even get there. Our job as coaches and as players is to go play a 40-minute game and do the things we’re capable of doing.”

Fennelly added that what makes Baylor so successful this season are the same as what’s made them successful in past seasons: they do just about everything right.

In fact, Fennelly compared the Bears to fellow perennial powerhouse UConn in that sense, saying that both teams are consistently successful because they’re excellent with fundamentals, can shoot the ball, play defense and rebound. Fennelly also added that Baylor has the ability to deliver a knockout punch to close out games, something that most great teams possess.

What Baylor does have that’s unique, however, is a significant size advantage down low. With players listed at 6-foot-7, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3 playing significant minutes in their frontcourt, the Bears are able to impose their will at the basket and force teams to take more jump shots.

“That’s a unique thing in the women’s game,” Fennelly said. “The size advantage that they have is unlike any team in the country, probably.”

What Iowa State does have going for them, however, is a significantly improved roster that can make jump shots consistently. With the addition of Kristin Scott to the starting lineup, Iowa State now has five starters that can stretch the floor with their long-range shooting abilities.

That should allow Iowa State to keep up the scoring with Baylor, and on top of that, the Cyclones are coming off a season-high 104 points against Oklahoma on Saturday.

Players said after the game on Saturday that the team’s attention to detail and defense played a big role in the scoring outburst.

“We want to be able to hit shots. We’re going to have to keep up the scoring with them,” Middleton said. “They’re obviously a very good team. They have great guards, great post players, so just having attention to detail in our game plan and just making sure we’re as perfect as we can be in every minute is a great focus for us.”

Just like on offense, the team’s defensive game plan will also center on neutralizing Baylor’s height advantage. Specifically, the Cyclones will try and limit the impact of Kalani Brown, last year’s Big 12 Most Outstanding Player and a first-team All-American.

Coming in averaging 15.3 points per game and seven rebounds, Brown is lagging a bit behind her averages form last year. However, at 6-foot-7, Brown still presents a matchup nightmare for any team the Bears play. 

One of the players tasked with guarding Brown, as well as Baylor’s other tall forwards, will be Meredith Burkhall, who says that setting the tone early by playing energetic and physical will be the key to slowing down the Bears’ inside scoring.

“Just do your work early,” Burkhall said. “That’s kind of how it is with all post players. Just meeting them down the floor and doing your work early. They have great post players, so we just have to do our work early. Play as strong as you can and be very physical.”