Smith: Iowa State will be force in Big 12

Ian Smith

Staff Writer

AMES – It’s time to think big, Cyclones.

Is an eighth-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament a lofty enough goal? Nope, not with a team as talented as Iowa State.

How does a Big 12 regular season title sound?

After a torrid start to the season, the No. 14 ranked Cyclones should set their sights on the crown.

Iowa State (10-0) once again proved its mettle Saturday, stomping Holy Cross 72-50. The Cyclones found success from long range with 11 3-pointers, tying a season-high.

“Three’s are a key part of this team,” guard Kidd Blaskowsky said. “We have the shooters.”

The Crusaders played tough early, but Iowa State’s sharp shooting turned the game into a blowout. Nikki Moody led a balanced scoring attack with 14 points. Jadda Buckley (12), Kidd Blaskowsky (11) and Hallie Christofferson (11) also scored in double figures.

The Cyclones need to get past William & Mary Sunday to finish the non-conference season undefeated for the third time in school history.

“It’s just not about basketball,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Our university gets a lot of attention because that that too. That’s good for Iowa State. That’s not just good for Iowa State basketball, it’s good for our university.”

For all intents and purposes, the Cyclone Challenge is for shaking off rust after a 16-day break between games. Iowa State’s attention is on the Big 12 with the start of conference play looming on Jan. 2 at Texas Christian.

Without Brittney Griner roaming the paint in the Big 12 this season, the conference is wide open. No. 9 Baylor (10-1) is the front-runner again, but The Bears are certainty beatable, especially away from home.

Who’s a threat Baylor’s supremacy? Why not Iowa State? The Cyclones own an unrivaled home-court advantage and are playing efficient basketball on the both ends of the court.

Led by its star Christofferson, Iowa State should be a force in the Big 12 race. No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Oklahoma and West Virginia (10-1) could also contend for the title.

Let’s take a closer look at two of the big factors in Iowa State’s success

Superstar Hallie

Hallie Christofferson is one of the best players in the country, and her biggest strength is her versatility.

Because Christofferson’s game goes from the block to 3-point land, teams need to closely guard her anywhere on the court. It’s not working. After 10 games, Christofferson is averaging 22.9 points per game – second in the Big 12.

Is Christofferson enough to push Iowa State to the Big 12 title? Probably not, but her presence alone makes her teammates better.

When opponents are forced to double Christofferson, it opens up opportunities for other Cyclones. Seanna Johnson (11.6), Nikki Moody (10.9), Jadda Buckley (9.9) and Brynn Williamson (9.8) all average close to 10 points per game.

“Everyone is going to double team Hallie,” Fennelly said. “Rightly so. That’s everyone’s game plan. When someone else is making baskets, you’re a lot better team when you have a little balance.”

Fierce rebounder

Iowa State lacks a true inside enforcer, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the rebounding statistics. The Cyclones are +8 in rebounding margin thanks in large part to Christofferson and the feisty Johnson.

Johnson – only a freshman – has been the biggest surprise of the season, averaging 8.7 rebounds per game. That mark is good enough for second in the Big 12.

Against rival Iowa, Johnson played her best game yet. Despite standing only 5-foot-10, Johnson snared 16 rebounds and scored seven points in an 83-70 victory.

In the rough Big 12, it’s imperative Johnson keeps fighting for those rebounds.

Quotable

Kidd Blaskowsky on Tenisha Matlock’s athleticism. Matlock played 13 minutes on Saturday, grabbing six rebounds and scoring four points.

“The first time (Tenisha) was in the gym, she took one step and touched the rim.”

Fennelly on Iowa State’s 3-point shooting early in the game.

“This game becomes eerily simple. You look really good when you’re making baskets. We had a stretch there where everything we looked at we made.”

Quick hits

-       Official attendance on Saturday was 7,758.

-       Iowa State finished with 19 assists on 26 made field goals.

-       Nikki Moody tallied 14 points and 10 assists. The junior committed only one turnover in 26 minutes on the court. Moody has 64 assists already this season.

-       The Cyclones have won the rebound battle in every game this season.

-       Brynn Williamson had six points and seven rebounds.

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