AMES, Iowa — Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly knew it was time for a one-on-one talk with Jadda Buckley after his team returned home from a Thanksgiving tournament loss to St. Mary’s.
Buckley, the sophomore point guard, had never struggled like this before in her young college career, but the stat-line from two games in Moraga, California, was unforgiving — four points, 2-for-10 in 24 total minutes.
In her entire freshman year, she only had three games with four points or less on her way to all-freshman team honors, and this year, she was expected to be an offensive focal point.
“We met, and we just talked about things she wasn’t doing, and she wasn’t playing the way she was capable of,” Fennelly said. “I thought her demeanor and her work habits weren’t what is normal for Jadda, and she agreed with that. She was frustrated. I think when you’re as competitive as she is, and you put in the amount of time that she’s put in, when it doesn’t go well, you’re frustrated.”
After the talk, things started to turn around with a 13-point, 5 of 10 shooting performance against Stony Brook last Sunday.
When she was forced into a leading role on Thursday against No. 24 Iowa, she responded.
With seniors Nikki Moody and Brynn Williamson struggling with foul trouble, Buckley put her team on her back, first scoring 14 points in the first half to keep the Cyclones within nine in a game that kept looking like it might slip away.
In the second half, she almost brought the Cyclones back, sticking a 3-pointer to cut the Iowa lead to four with 54 seconds remaining.
“It’s no secret that Nikki and Brynn are a huge part of this team,” Buckley said after the game. “So when they’re not on the court, someone has got to step up, because those are two huge roles that nobody can fill, so you just have to as much as you can possibly do on the court to stay in the game.”
Buckley finished with 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting, but the rest of her team shot just 30 percent in a 76-67 loss. Unlike her previous five games, she was assertive, confident driving to the basket, which led to 7 of 8 shooting from the 3-point line, and pulling up from distance.
“I thought Jadda was the best player in the game,” Fennelly said. “She was as aggressive as she’s been, by far the best defensive player in the game for us … Obviously, if she hadn’t played that way, the game could’ve gotten out of hand. But from the very beginning, she was engaged and aggressive, and when she’s playing that way, she’s going to be very good.”
Whether she can maintain that type of performance remains to be seen. Every player on the Cyclones has had her ups and downs already in the young season. With four games against mid-major opponents left before Big 12 season, starting with Sunday’s noon tip against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the Cyclones will try to establish well-rounded consistency.
But one thing is certain. After starting the season as a player who bore little resemblance to the player who averaged double figures last season, the Buckley of old is back. The Cyclones need her to stick around.
“You think about a kid like that who, probably her entire life, it’s been good, successful as a basketball player,” Fennelly said. “Then all of a sudden, you get into a little rut and you’re not playing well and you’re in foul trouble and your shot’s not going in, you don’t know how to handle it because it’s never happened to you before.
“To her credit, she really bought into some things, and she really understood kind of what she needed to do, and I thought from the time we got back from California through [Thursday], she’s had 12 really good days. Like I said, it’s hopefully something that we can build on and we’re still searching for some kind of consistency.”