Notebook: Cyclones coming together at right time despite TCU loss

Kristin Scott attempts a 3-pointer against Texas Southern women’s basketball team Nov. 7, 2019.

John Miller, J_Miller_8

Iowa State’s 82-72 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs on Sunday may be a step down after coming in having won three straight games. Those included victories over Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and perhaps most importantly, Texas, on its path to make a case for the NCAA Tournament.

Those wins built momentum for the team heading toward the end of the season. But if anything, it revealed some crucial details down the stretch that could come into play as the Cyclones continue to build their case to play in the NCAA Tournament.  

Interior defense

Against TCU, Iowa State allowed 42 points in the paint, the most the Cyclones have allowed in the paint all season. And while that may seem problematic for Head Coach Bill Fennelly’s group, interior defense is something that the Cyclones have not really struggled with this year.

Iowa State arguably limited the most dominant post presence in the conference in Oklahoma State’s Natasha Mack on Feb. 5 to an 8-for-21 shooting night. While she finished with 18 points, those points were earned through tougher shots than she has been used to seeing.

Rebounding statistics have shown Iowa State’s ability to battle down low as well among the conference teams.

As a team, Iowa State is second in the Big 12 in rebounds by the opponent (34.38 per game). Individually, Ashley Joens ranks fourth in the Big 12 at 10.8 rebounds per game, and Kristin Scott is tenth with 7.5 per game. To add, Scott ranks sixth in the Big 12 in blocks with 46 (1.8 per game).

One of the best things about the duo is their ability to play on the outside and inside on offense and defense, making it difficult for teams to match up.

But even players like Morgan Kane and Inès Nezerwa fulfill important defensive roles off the bench for Iowa State. Taking tough shots in the post is something Iowa State forces out of other teams, but what the Cyclones did on Sunday was allow a lot of dribble penetration from guards, which has to be limited going forward.

Unexpected players stepping up

Limiting the scoring of Joens is a priority every game for the opponent. Joens, the Big 12 leading scorer, has tormented defenses this year on her way to an average of 20.9 points per game. At one point, that average was higher than 23, showing that defenses are keying on her lately. That only gives other players a chance to step up and take the defense’s attention off Joens and show their worth for the Cyclones.

Adriana Camber scored 18 points against TCU, including a 5-11 performance from beyond the 3-point line. Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw has also shown glimpses of being a key third scoring option for Iowa State as she reached a streak of four consecutive games of double-digit points earlier in the season. Rae Johnson even scored 10 points against Texas and 8 points against Oklahoma.

Perhaps the most surprising is Scott’s recent success. Quietly, Scott has worked her way to 11th in the Big 12 in scoring at 15 points per game and had put up 15 points or more in the last seven games. Scott’s consistency has been overlooked thanks to the season Joens has experienced, but Scott and the rest of the Cyclones will have to continue to step up as defenses continue to load up on Joens. 

Updated NCAA Tournament and Big 12 Standings

In the latest ESPN Bracketology, the Cyclones came in as a projected 10 seed. 

As for Big 12 Standings, the Cyclones stand at 7-6 in conference play — just one game behind Texas in third place and a half-game ahead of Kansas State in fifth. Looking ahead, Iowa State won the first game against two out of the five teams it has remaining on the schedule. That said, 10 wins is a solid goal for Iowa State to end conference play to increase its odds of making the tournament.

It is also worth mentioning that the selection committee is known for often siding with a fewer-loss major conference team rather than a high-win mid-major team on the bubble. In that case, Iowa State’s case is helped by playing in a highly competitive conference.