AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly frequently stresses that forward Chelsea Poppens is a one-of-a-kind player.
But if there’s a Big 12 rival who most mirrors her skill set and hard-nosed attributes, it’s Oklahoma’s Joanna McFarland.
“They both like running into people,” said Fennelly, who will see Poppens and McFarland clash in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game against the No. 16 Sooners (14-2, 4-0) at Hilton Coliseum. “They don’t shy away from contact. They’re both playing in a way, and I think, emerging as the seniors that they need to be.”
Poppens, a senior preseason all-American from Aplington, averages 12.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in conference play for the No. 24 Cyclones (12-2, 3-1).
McFarland, a previously unheralded senior, checks in at 14.8 points and 10.8 boards in Big 12 games this season.
“(Her) numbers are ridiculous in the league,” Fennelly said. “I think she’s shooting about 80 percent. Most people don’t shoot 80 percent if they’re out there all by themselves, let alone in a conference games. So I think her emergence, to go with their guard play, has really helped.”
Oklahoma’s needed it.
Four players — including first team all-Big 12 guard Whitney Hand — have been lost for the season because of injury.
Still, the Sooners win on.
“You look at almost every game they’ve played and they’ve been close or down in a lot of (them) and they find ways to win,” Fennelly said. “They make plays at the right time and that’s a tribute to (coach) Sherri (Coale). That’s her personality: Grind it out, work hard, do things the right way.”
That work becomes easier when a balance is achieved.
And the Sooners have struck it on the offensive end of the floor.
Slick-shooting guard Aaryn Ellenberg leads five players averaging at least 9.8 points with 22.3 points per game.
“They really do shoot it well and they have a lot of guards that can shoot it,” ISU point guard Nikki Moody said.
Poppens is coming off her best all-around performance of the season, a 24-point, 15-rebound effort in a 68-52 win Saturday over TCU.
One board — off a missed free throw — fueled a 13-2 first-half run that got the Cyclones the lead for good.
“The whole goal is to get my teammates another shot,” Poppens said. “It gets everyone motivated just to have another try at it.”
Poppens, Fennelly said, hadn’t been playing as well as she’d hoped recently and dropped by his office last week to seek answers.
“When you care as much as she cares, those things are going to happen,” Fennelly said. “She knows what she can do and her teammates know what she can do.”
ISU MEN PREPARE FOR WEST VIRGINIA: When Iowa State men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg looks at Bob Huggins coached teams, he discerns one constant.
“Bob’s teams have always been so physical,” said Hoiberg, whose Cyclones face Huggins-led West Virginia in Wednesday’s 8 p.m. Big 12 game at Hilton Coliseum. “The run their offense, they cut extremely hard and the biggest thing they do is offensive rebound.”
The Mountaineers (9-7, 1-2) have been in every conference game this season and posted a 57-53 overtime win at Texas.
ISU (11-4, 1-1) is coming off a 20-point home win over the Longhorns.
Point guard Korie Lucious had one of his better games, dishing out nine assists to just three turnovers.
“I’m trying to tell myself every day I need to limit my turnovers because that’s not what’s going to help us win,” Lucious said. “I’m doing good so far and hopefully I can keep it up.”
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