MANHATTAN, Kans. – Regardless of gender, Big 12 Conference basketball is an 18-game round-robin obstacle course built out of barbed wire with sink holes and slippery slopes to navigate.
To support that thesis, allow Your Humble Correspondent to present Iowa State as Exhibit A.
Just over a week ago, on Jan. 10, the Cyclones had the only undefeated men’s and women’s programs. As of 9:05 p.m. Saturday, Iowa State’s teams each had three Big 12 losses. In a finger snap eye blink, the reality of life and competition in league play smacked the Cyclones in the face with an open-palm slap.
Here in Bramlage Coliseum Saturday night, Kansas State added to the list of woes facing coach Bill Fennelly’s team. The Wildcats, fresh off a victory at Texas Tech that snapped a road losing streak, kept their positive mojo working with an 80-74 victory over No. 13 Iowa State.
“The timing of when you get teams is interesting,” Fennelly said. “We had two losses to two really good teams. K-State was feeling better than we were. You play 18 games, nine at home and nine on the road. We didn’t do what we needed to do to beat a team that’s playing really well.”
The Wildcats (8-9, 2-4) used a 13-0 run to seize a 15-5 lead in the first seven minutes. Freshman Leticia Romero, who finished with a career-high 27 points and five assists, had eight points to key the spurt.
“She was as good as advertised,” Fennelly said, noting that she played 39 minutes with just one turnover.
While the Iowa State men lost two of its three games on the road, the women came here having lost their last two in Hilton Coliseum. Losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia (now a combined 32-3 overall and 10-2 in league play) were traceable to cold shooting. Iowa State missed 32 of 37 3-point attempts; its most potent weapon was disarmed.
The shooting slump made the trip to Kansas. Until a late flurry, the Cyclones lived on an iron-rich diet. In the first half, Iowa State shot 19.4 percent (6-of-31). The Cyclones were 4-of-15 on 3-pointers so, yes, that means they missed 14 of 16 attempts inside the arc.
“I didn’t tell our team this, but I thought the first half defensively was going to be the whole game,” K-State coach Deb Patterson said. “They can be hard to guard and explosive offensively. We got off to a good start.”
“Our coaches prepared us really well,” said Katya Leick, who played 40 minutes and scored a career-high 23 points. “We focused on defense. If you defend and rebound, then the offense will come.”
Iowa State’s leading scorer Hallie Christofferson (21 points per game) scored just four points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Cyclones’ starters were 14 of 45 on field goal attempts.
“We have so much respect for (Christofferson),” Patterson said. “It took a team to slow her down. We had five different players guard her. Our only chance was to mix looks and we were somewhat effective in limiting her touches.”
The Cyclones played the foul game over the last two minutes, trading K-State free throw attempts for their own 3-point tries. Iowa State made five of six from behind the arc, prying off the lid that had been on the basket for 38 minutes. It was not enough and too late as the Wildcats made 13 of their last 18 free throw tries to seal the deal.
“In this league you’ve got to rebound, defend, take care of the ball and make shots,” Fennelly said. “Right now, we’re not making any shots. It’s hard to win when you don’t make shots.”
Leick was a career-best 4-of-8 from the 3-point line and Romero was 3-of-7 as the Wildcats finished 9-of-24 from beyond the arc. K-State shot 49 percent from the field.
“It’s thrilling, really rewarding to get this victory over a ranked team,” Leick said. “It helps our confidence, shows how much we’ve grown and the growing we can do. This gives us momentum for the rest of the season.”
The rest of the season starts with the Wildcats’ next game … at No. 7 Baylor Wednesday. Upset one ranked team, play another one on its home court. It’s Big 12 basketball.