ISU post faces tall test against Baylor


Miranda Cantrell/Iowa State Daily

Freshman guard Jadda Buckley takes off after receiving a pass during the Cyclones game against Baylor March 4 at Hilton Coliseum. After a slow start, the Cyclones picked up their game to tighten the point gap, but ultimately the Cyclones fell to the Lady Bears 70-54. This was the Cyclones’ senior night game.

Luke Manderfeld

If the ISU women’s basketball thin lineup at the post position needed a break after a couple of hard-fought games, it won’t find one this weekend. 

Iowa State (11-6, 4-4 Big 12) will face its toughest test of the season as a team, but also in the post, when it takes on No. 4 Baylor (18-1, 5-1 Big 12) in Ames on Saturday. 

The Lady Bears have always been among the top teams in the NCAA, and this team remains in the top seven. Boasting large size with a mix of shifty guards, Baylor has an early lead in the race for the Big 12 title after beating No. 6 Texas on Sunday. 

“I think the thing with Baylor is they keep looking down the bench there’s another 6-6 high school All-American,” said ISU coach Bill Fennelly. “That doesn’t even include Nina Davis. It’s like the Alabama defensive line.”

Baylor leads the Big 12 in rebounds per game, sitting at a 45.6 per game clip. After the loss of Bryanna Fernstrom a week ago, the Cyclones have struggled in post defense. 

In the overtime loss to Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Iowa State conceded 45 points in the paint, the highest total this season. Freshman Meredith Burkhall, who has taken the starting center role, has seemed overmatched on defense. But Fennelly said that was to be expected from an inexperienced player in the Big 12.

“Our defensive angles have got to get better,” Fennelly said. “When you play post defense, the thing that you talk about all the time is you can’t do the work after they’ve already caught the ball. I think when you have inexperienced post players — and I think the hardest thing in the game to do is playing good post defense — there’s nothing harder.”

Baylor’s main force down in the post, Davis, has the best résumé on the squad. She was an All-American last season and was a finalist for the Wooden award, which is given to the best player in the country. 

She started this season right where she left off last season, averaging 16.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Although she is 5-foot-11, Davis still heads the Lady Bears’ large presence in the paint.

Fennelly said Baylor will provide the hardest test for the team’s bigs. 

“Certainly [our post players are] a work in progress, and it will get challenged dramatically on Saturday afternoon with what Baylor has in the post,” Fennelly said.

It isn’t just the post players who will be tested. On paper, Baylor is far and above the better team. Even Fennelly recognizes that it’s going to take something a little special to beat a top-five squad. 

“If they play their best and we play our best, we’re going to lose,” Fennelly said. “I’m not trying to be disrespectful to our players, but that’s the fact. We have to play at a level that’s maybe above us as a group. And they’ve got to come down to us a little bit.”

It was the last game of the 2014-15 regular season when the Cyclones hosted the Lady Bears at Hilton Coliseum last time around. Iowa State grabbed one of its biggest wins in the past few years, defeating then-No. 3 Baylor. 

The ISU men’s basketball team had an upset of its own Monday night, beating No. 1 Oklahoma at Hilton Coliseum. Fennelly is hoping that there’s a little bit of magic left in Hilton when Saturday’s game comes around. 

“That’s the great thing about basketball,” Fennelly said. “You’ve still got to play, you’ve still got to make shots. Obviously, I hope there’s a little bit of magic dust left here from Monday night.”