AMES, Iowa — When Bill Fennelly pulls into the Hilton Coliseum parking lot on game day and steps out of his car, the Iowa State women’s basketball coach said a stadium worker usually asks him, ‘Coach, what do you think today?’
“I’m like, ‘Well, you’ll know when I know,’ ” Fennelly said. “I’m not kidding, that’s the way it is.”
Without a go-to scorer, three freshmen playing key roles at times and with several streaky shooters on his roster, ISU has been nothing short of unpredictable this season.
All five starters have led the team in scoring at least once. All five have also scored six or less at least once. Usually, the go-to scorer for that day becomes apparent early, like when Jadda Buckley broke out to score 14 of her 25 points in the first half against Iowa, or when freshman Bryanna Fernstrom scored 12 of ISU’s first 14 on her way to 25 points in the season opener against USC Upstate.
— Bill Fennelly, Iowa State coach
“It’s much more matchup-driven than it ever was,” Fennelly said. “In the past you knew sooner or later, this person was going to score. Hallie [Christofferson] was going to score, [Chelsea Poppens] was going to score, [Alison Lacey] was going to score. It might not have been in the first few minutes of the game, but you knew it was going to happen.
“Right now, we’re trying to figure out, ‘Who’s got the matchup? Who’s got the hot hand?’ “
The Cyclones have already experienced their fair share of slumps this season. Brynn Williamson led ISU with 15.8 points per game for the first five games before tallying just five points during the next five halves. The point guard Buckley reached double digits once in the first five games before breaking out for 13 and 25 points against Stony Brook and Iowa, respectively.
Williamson snapped out of her cold streak by scoring 13 points in the second half against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Dec. 14. Buckley’s hot streak, meanwhile, ended that game, when she sat out with a stress injury in her foot that’ll also keep her out against Fairfield on Sunday.
“I think it’s really important that everybody is happy for each other and cheers each other on,” Williamson said, “because we’re all going to have nights where we struggle, and we’re all going to have nights where we’re the best player on the court.”
Without Buckley, who should return for the Cyclone Challenge next week, ISU will once again have to search for its best scoring option. Last game, Kidd Blaskowsky filled in for Buckley as a starter and a hot shooter, scoring 17 points on five 3-pointers.
Who will the Cyclones lean on against Fairfield? Anyone’s guess is as good as Fennelly’s.
“We don’t have kids right now that, if they start slowly, have been able to get out of that funk, so we’ve got to be smart with how we do things,” Fennelly said. “Where we put them, the shot selection that we get, and a lot of that is, ‘Can you get to the free-throw line, can you get easy baskets. Don’t put yourself under stress all the time.’ Some of that, too, comes down to defense.”
“What we’ve had is, when we make a defensive mistake, it’s impacted our offense, or vice-versa,” he continued. “So we’ve got to be better at that. We’ve got to coach that better, we’ve got to prepare for that better because with our kids, it does impact them a little bit too much. If we can do that, I think the consistency will be a little bit better.”