Cyclones managing fatigue, ready for Oklahoma test

Meredith Burkhall drives to the hoop for a lay up in Iowa State’s 99-58 win over North Carolina Central. Burkhall scored 19 points.

Noah Rohlfing

The “NBA schedule” portion of the Cyclones’ season is just beginning.

Managing fatigue is a key part of Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly’s job during the Big 12 season. Starting with their victory over Kansas on Thursday night, the Cyclones will play nine games in the next month, with matchups against three top-10 opponents in Baylor, Texas and West Virginia.

Fennelly said on Friday that short practices give the team a chance to regain their legs before quick turnarounds. It also puts the onus on coaches to make sure each moment is utilized in a productive manner.

“This time of year, you don’t practice very often,” Fennelly said. “You have to be very precise in what you try to get done.”

At first glance, Oklahoma, sitting at 5-7 after a loss to Texas on Thursday, is not the most imposing foe. Fennelly warns, though, that an easy game does not exist in the Big 12.

Based on the Sooners’ roster and non-conference schedule, it’s clear there’s more to Oklahoma than what meets the eye.

Fennelly said that the Sooners always pose problems for Iowa State.

“They’re gonna play with an amazing amount of energy on both ends of the court,” Fennelly said. “It’s probably as tough of a matchup for us as we’ve faced in a long time.”

The Sooners come into Sunday’s game dead last in the Big 12 in defense, allowing a very generous 77.1 points per contest. Opponents shoot an average of 41.6 percent from the field, which is almost exactly Iowa State’s shooting percentage so far (the Cyclones have hit 41.5 percent of their shots).

Oklahoma also comes last in defending 3-pointers, allowing opponents to make 34.9 percent of their attempts from the great beyond. The Cyclones are first in the Big 12 in 3-pointers made, so expect Iowa State to take aim from behind the arc early and often.

On the offensive end, Oklahoma scores 78.9 points per contest. The Sooners like to push the pace and score as quickly as possible, which will test Iowa State’s fast break defense far more than Kansas’ grind-it-out style.

The Sooners love to share the scoring burden, and Fennelly says that makes it more difficult to pinpoint one player to stop for the Cyclones.

“They’re really hard for us, they play really fast,” Fennelly said. “Last year we tried to take their guards away, and they killed us in the post.”

By now, the Cyclones’ coaches and players are probably sick and tired of talking about one specific Sooner. Sixth-year senior guard Maddie Manning, an Ankeny native, has been the talk of reporters each time the Sooners visit Ames.

The Sooners’ third-leading scorer this season at 13.2 points per contest, Manning poses a threat. So too does leading scorer and center Vionise Pierre-Louis, a 6-foot-4 senior shooting almost 64 percent from the field, and 43 percent 3-point shooter Gabbi Ortiz.

The Cyclones might have to shoot the lights out on the offensive end to keep Oklahoma at bay, which is where newly minted 1,000 point scorer Bridget Carleton comes in.

The junior guard is coming off of a 30-point outing in the Cyclones’ overtime victory over Kansas, and admitted Friday she was not enthused about having to play an extra period.

“Definitely feel [sore] a little bit,” Carleton said. “Hopefully we don’t do overtime again.”

Despite her constant heroics, the Cyclones can’t expect Carleton to carry the load by herself, which is why post play (on both ends of the court) could play a big role in determining who wins Sunday.

Junior center Bride Kennedy-Hopoate has been physical and versatile on the offensive end, scoring in double figures each of the last three games. Her uptick in production has come as both junior Meredith Burkhall and freshman Kristin Scott are stuck in offensive slumps.

Burkhall says that the path to correcting that starts with reps in practice.

“Things we do [in Sukup] lead over to Hilton,” Burkhall said. “That [work] is going to allow us to have success.”