Three Takeaways: Carleton shines as Iowa State stuns No. 19 Cowgirls

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

Noah Rohlfing

An inspired performance from Bridget Carleton led Iowa State to a stunning road victory over Oklahoma State on Wednesday night.

The 78-69 victory was Iowa State’s first victory over a ranked opponent since the Cyclones beat No. 6 Texas in Austin, Texas, on February 24, 2017. Iowa State moves to 9-11 on the season and 3-6 in the Big 12.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s upset.

Carleton’s career night

Bridget Carleton had the most prolific game of her Iowa State career on Wednesday night.

On 16-of-22 shooting, Carleton scored a career-high 39 points and grabbed nine rebounds against the Cowgirls. She now has the third-highest single game point total in Cyclones history, ranking only behind Lindsey Wilson (41 points) and Tonya Burns (42).

Carleton scored from everywhere on the floor, posting up against smaller defenders early on before switching to a mid-range game for a bulk of the first half. She had 17 at the break on 8-of-10 shooting, and came out firing in the second half.

Carleton continued to be aggressive, cutting to the basket and finishing a handful of tough shots at the rim. She found her perimeter shot as the game wound down, hitting two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to give the Cyclones a chance at the upset.

The junior guard from Chatham, Ontario, Canada, credited coach Bill Fennelly with setting up a successful game plan.

“He put me in good positions to get the right shots,” Carleton said in a postgame interview with Fox Sports Network. “I got going early and got my confidence back.”

Carleton has to be at her best for the Cyclones to reach their potential, and tonight’s victory was a prime example of what they can achieve when she takes over.

Sterling bench performance

This was an all-around performance that came seemingly out of nowhere for Iowa State.

The Cyclones have now won their last two road games, beating Texas Tech 66-54 before Wednesday’s game. Prior to tonight’s upset, though, they had been dominated by now-No. 3 Baylor and now-No. 20 West Virginia at Hilton, losing by a combined 39 points. The Cyclones had struggled to score on the offensive end and were getting very little production from the bench (bar Emily Durr’s 15-point performance against West Virginia).

Tonight, however, was a different story.

The Cyclones were down by as much as 11 points and trailed by 10 at halftime before coming back to take the lead for the first time at 60-59 with 5:10 left in the game. The Cyclones played most of the fourth quarter with redshirt junior forward Claire Ricketts and sophomore guard Nia Washington on the floor, as well as sophomore forward Adriana Camber.

Washington and Ricketts have been at the end of Fennelly’s rotation for the bulk of the year, with neither player averaging more than six minutes per contest. But with the Cyclones down 10 and needing a spark in the second half, Ricketts and Washington provided. Ricketts was vital to Iowa State’s ability to shut down the Cowgirls’ star center Kaylee Jensen.

Carleton was very complimentary of Ricketts’ contributions.

“[Claire] doesn’t get a lot of minutes, but she was huge defensively,” Carleton said on FSN.

Camber, who just recently lost her starting job, came off the bench and scored nine points, including a huge pull-up three that gave the Cyclones a 63-60 lead with 4:11 to play.

After struggling to get bench production in recent games, Iowa State’s reserves came up big on Wednesday and helped get the Cyclones across the finish line.

Matchup zone success

Iowa State has gone back and forth between the matchup 2-3 zone and a basic man-to-man defense this year, depending on the opponents’ personnel.

Against the No. 19 Cowgirls and the aforementioned Jensen, the Cyclones went with a four-guard lineup and chose to stick with the matchup zone all game long. The result was one of the Cyclones’ best defensive performances of the year.

Jensen was forced out from underneath the basket, struggling to find her footing in the paint and only taking eight shots all game long. The Cowgirls as a team shot 31.3 percent from the floor for the game, and in the second half the Cyclones held Oklahoma State to a 7-for-35 showing.

Iowa State also held the Cowgirls to 38 rebounds and finished plus-5 in rebounding despite the absence of freshman center Kristin Scott, who is averaging 6.7 boards per game. 

The most impressive defensive performance came from Ricketts, who in 16 minutes grabbed seven rebounds and was a strong presence in the paint. 

Iowa State has had some solid defensive performances this season, but holding the Cowgirls 15 points below their season-long average might just be the Cyclones’ best showing yet.