Iowa State hoping to repeat last year’s Hilton upset of West Virginia


Then junior Bridget Carleton making her way into Bears territory during the game against Baylor on Jan. 17 at the Hilton Coliseum. 

Noah Rohlfing

Last year, Iowa State got demolished by Baylor in Hilton Coliseum, then went to Morgantown, West Virginia, and beat the then-No. 22 Mountaineers 80-55.

The Cyclones will be hoping history can repeat itself this year. After Wednesday’s 79-50 loss to Baylor, the Cyclones have another chance to turn things around against No. 17 West Virginia, this time at home on Saturday.

West Virginia is on a two-game skid heading into Saturday, having lost to Oklahoma State last time out and falling to 3-4 in conference play. The Mountaineers have struggled on the defensive end in their losses, giving up an average of 73.5 points in those four games and allowing opponents to shoot an average of 41.2 percent.

In the last meeting between these two teams, the Cyclones held West Virginia to 29.3 percent from the field and 4-of-17 from 3-point range. The Mountaineers only shot 19-for-29 from the free throw line and turned the ball over 19 times. With one minute to play, Iowa State was only down two and had a chance to take the lead.

Coach Bill Fennelly thinks that another ugly game might be on the cards Saturday.

“With West Virginia, it’s always the same,” Fennelly said. “You’re going to get a physical presence. They make it really hard to run your offense.”

Junior guard Bridget Carleton had only 14 points in the first meeting and went 5-for-22 from the floor, but a 24-point performance against Baylor on Wednesday seems to have broken her out of her slump.

Freshman guard Madison Wise, the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game, knows Carleton getting back to her best is key to Iowa State’s success.

“Bridget’s obviously an amazing player,” Wise said. “When she starts hitting shots, it really gets us going.”

Coach Bill Fennelly pointed out before the teams’ first meeting, Iowa State matches up very well with the Mountaineers, particularly on defense. The two teams are very similar size-wise, and both teams like to play small with one true post in the lineup.

Fennelly said the staff hasn’t yet decided who will be on the court at tip-off.

“We’re mixing and matching, trying to figure it out today in practice,” Fennelly said.

West Virginia has gone back-and-forth between Kristina King and Theresa Ekhelar at the center position, while Iowa State is still tinkering with the trio of juniors Bride Kennedy-Hopoate and Meredith Burkhall and freshman Kristin Scott. Burkhall and Kennedy-Hopoate both started against Baylor in an effort to combat the ludicrous size the Lady Bears brought to the table.

Against West Virginia, though, there will likely only be now one of the two in the lineup. Kristin Scott performed fairly well against Baylor and might sneak into the lineup, but lately the spotlight has been on Kennedy-Hopoate. The Aussie is the Cyclones’ most physical player, and she has been in the starting lineup for five of Iowa State’s seven conference games.

Interestingly, Kennedy-Hopoate’s two best performances in Big 12 play have come when she’s started on the bench. In the win against Kansas, she put together 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting and added six rebounds in 27 minutes. In the loss to Kansas State, she went 7-for-8 from the floor and had 17 points, all coming in the second half. In her five conference starts, she has scored a combined 16 points on 6-for-27 shooting.

Her struggles with foul trouble might play a role, as she leads the team with 54 fouls and averages a foul every six minutes of action. She’s not the only player who struggled against West Virginia, though.

As a team, Iowa State committed 20 fouls in the previous meeting, and freshman guard Rae Johnson says the Cyclones need to “watch their fouls” and keep the Mountaineers off the free-throw line to have a chance.

Fennelly was in full agreement.

“We put them on the free throw line too many times,” Fennelly said.

Whether Saturday’s game is an ugly affair or a high-scoring track meet doesn’t seem to matter. The Cyclones are simply trying to repeat last year’s heroics and get their Big 12 campaign back on track.