Different season, same scenario after another Baylor loss

Freshman guard Rae Johnson dribbles down the court during the game against UC Riverside Dec 17. The Cyclones defeated Riverside 89-66.

Jack Macdonald

Twice last season Iowa State lost to Baylor, both by a large margin. And twice the Cyclones when on to defeat a ranked team in their next game. 

And when the Cyclones travel to Morgantown, West Virginia, for a 1 p.m. Sunday matinee against No. 12 West Virginia, they are in an all too familiar situation. 

In its last time out, Iowa State was overrun by Baylor in a 40-point defeat, the worst of Bill Fennelly’s 20-plus year tenure in Ames. Luckily, if last season is any indicator, the Cyclones are right where they want to be. 

“Last year we had a tough loss against Baylor and we went on the road to West Virginia and played maybe our best game of the year,” Fennelly said. “We’re going to have to do that again.”

Fennelly isn’t wrong. The first time the then-No. 2 Lady Bears smacked the Cyclones 68-42 last season, Iowa State followed by knocking off then-No. 22 Kansas State 75-69. 

However, while the Cyclones are faced with a similar scenario, they have a completely new look. Three of the five starters from the first loss the Lady Bears handed the Cyclones last season are gone. Only juniors Bridget Carleton and Meredith Burkhall remain. And of the 42 points scored in that contest, the junior duo combined for 19. 

But against Kansas State, the following game, current senior Emily Durr was inserted into the starting lineup. Carleton, Durr and Burkhall combined for 32 points. Now, a year later, the Cyclones are searching for a similar revitalization from their bench. 

Perhaps that player is freshman Rae Johnson, a guard who is only five games removed from posting a career-high 14 points. 

“We obviously went through a little bit of a struggle [losing to Baylor],” Johnson said. “We just need to come together, play stronger and play together.”

While it would be easy for Johnson to say that they can only go up from here, that’s not the mentality. It can’t be the mentality when the next opponent only has two losses thus far. 

It also can’t be the mentality when the Mountaineers posses Teana Muldrow, one of the best players in the Big 12. Muldrow, a senior, is averaging 21.5 points per game, just 0.3 below Oklahoma State’s Loryn Goodwin, the Big 12’s leader in points per game. 

“The Muldrow kids are really good,” Fennelly said. “[They’re] hard [to] cover. We’re gonna have a hard time because she can go inside, she can go outside.”

Despite Muldrow’s success this season, the Cyclones were able to keep the talented 6-foot-1 forward in check last season, allowing her to only score 17 points between both meetings. 

And in both meetings, Iowa State won both games by over 10 points. Fennelly credited the success to winning the matchup game. 

“It was one of those things were this league, like a lot of leagues I guess, it’s about matchups,” Fennelly said. “Matchups make fights, or whatever that [saying] is. 

“We just seemed to matchup with them last year and I think in both games Bridget played really well.”

That first game against West Virginia, Carleton exploded for 31 points en route to an 80-55 road win. Come Sunday, though, Carleton will need that Durr-like performance from a year ago, but from a newcomer, whether it be Kristin Scott, Bride Kennedy-Hopoate, Madison Wise or Johnson. 

The first step to repeat last years trend: an underdog mentality from everyone, not just the newcomers. 

“We kind of went in [to West Virginia], we were the underdogs, we were excited to play to get on kind of a roll to finish the season last year,” Carleton said. “So, I think that has to our mindset again… If we bring our best we can make it a game and make it exciting.”