Bill Fennelly had never lost five games in a row, until last Wednesday’s defeat at home against Texas.
The longtime Iowa State coach made sure the longest losing skid since he took over the Cyclones program in 1995 didn’t turn into six games when his Iowa State team knocked off No. 17 Texas Tech 66-49 on Sunday.
Now Fennelly will bring his team into Manhattan on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. matchup with Kansas State, another team hoping to snap a losing skid after dropping a pair of games to Oklahoma and Baylor.
The Cyclones may be 10-7 overall and just 1-5 in the Big 12 so far, but K-State coach Deb Patterson knows better than anyone that slow start doesn’t lessen the challenge her Wildcats will face at Bramlage Coliseum.
“I think Iowa State’s record is a huge illusion because in this league you have to take into account the schedule,” she said Monday. “You can look at someone’s record and tomorrow it can change into a five-game winning streak and you don’t want to be the second one in that streak.
“You saw them blow away Texas Tech. It wasn’t an accident, but rather a function of that team gaining confidence and a team that did the work. They outrebounded them and were more aggressive. That’s Big 12 basketball. Records are an illusion because everyone you’re playing against can flat-out play.”
The Iowa State and K-State programs know each other well with the longest tenured coaches in the league — two programs that always seem to meet in the Big 12 tournament and provide edge-of-your-seat type games every year. In fact, K-State won the last meeting, a 56-53 victory over the Cyclones during the quarterfinals of last season’s Big 12 Championship.
“Our programs are very familiar with one another, our styles are very well known and we recruit a lot of the same type of players because we value the same type of basketball, so there aren’t a lot of secrets between us,” said Patterson, who is 14-19 against the Cyclones.
“You know what’s coming and you have to get the job done.”
Getting the job done has been difficult of late for the Wildcats (13-5, 4-2), who lost 65-57 to the Sooners at home last Wednesday, followed by a 76-41 drubbing at Baylor on Saturday.
And while there aren’t too many must-wins in January, for the Wildcats, Wednesday’s contest is just that, as K-State tries to avoid a three-game skid before having to go on the road for back-to-back games at Oklahoma State and Texas in the next week.
“For us, in our heads, it is a must-win,” K-State junior guard Brittany Chambers said. “Iowa State is a great team, but it’s a team we feel we should beat. Not winning would mean us not being us and us not doing our jobs.”
Patterson said every game at home is a must-win in the Big 12.
“You have to hold home court and when you see what’s ahead of you and you see where you’re positioned in the league right now,” she said. “If you want to be one of those teams that’s competing for an upper-division finish, these contests in January at home are ones that you have to win.”
Doing it against the Cyclones, even an Iowa State team that’s struggled of late, won’t be easy, though. Because, even a 1-5 Cyclones team is awfully dangerous when it gets hot like it did against the Lady Raiders on Sunday.
“They are very deceptive,” Chambers said. “We can’t look at their record and think any less of them because Iowa State is one of those teams that shoots 3s all day, everyday, and if they catch fire, they could beat anyone.
“They have an unbelievable coach, pride and an unbelievable history at Iowa State. They’re not just going to lie down and die. They’ll come back from what they’re going through right now.”
The Cyclones lost in a rout at Oklahoma to open Big 12 play, followed by a 57-45 home loss to Baylor, which was followed by a 74-67 double-overtime loss to Kansas. Iowa State then lost 59-33 at home to Texas A&M and 62-60 at Texas last week.
Iowa State has been very Jekyll and Hyde this year, even in the close losses, followed by blowouts. But Patterson sees a team still capable of doing a lot of damage in the Big 12 as the season moves forward.
The Cyclones are paced by Chelsea Poppens with 13.4 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, while Hallie Christofferson adds 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. Point guard Nikki Moody is averaging 9.2 points and 4.6 assists per game, while 6-foot-7 center Anna Prins is always dangerous with 7.7 points and four rebounds a game. Brynn Williamson has been their best 3-point shooter this season, making 35 percent of her shots behind the arc to average 7.3 points a game.
“With Moody, they have a point guard they like as well as any they’ve ever had,” Patterson said. “Poppens is 10 rebounds a game — blue-collar work ethic and gets to the foul line. Christofferson is a 4, who can drain five 3s in a game. Williamson didn’t shoot it well the last game, but you know she can go off at any time. And with Prins you have that 6-7 body you have to contend with.
“They’ve got the foundation piece of a great basketball team. They were in the NCAA tournament a year ago and didn’t graduate enough to make you think you could take a deep sigh.”
KANSAS STATE (13-5, 4-2)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Brittany Chambers Jr. 5-8 15.9 6.2
G — Tasha Dickey Sr. 5-10 9.8 4.0
G — Mariah White Jr. 5-8 5.9 4.2
F — Jalana Childs Sr. 6-2 14.5 5.4
F — Branshea Brown Sr. 6-2 4.9 5.8
IOWA STATE (10-7, 1-5)
Yr. Ht. Ppg. Rpg.
G — Nikki Moody Fr, 5-8 9.2 3.3
G — Lauren Mansfield Sr. 5-7 6.0 2.8
G — Brynn Williamson Fr. 5-11 7.3 2.2
F — Chelsea Poppens Jr. 6-2 13.4 11.4
C — Anna Prins Jr. 6-7 7.7 4.0