AMES — How challenging - and precious - are chances to beat No. 1-ranked teams?
Let Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly illustrate.
“The other day I saw they said when Syracuse beat Louisville (in men’s hoops) it was the fourth time (Orange coach) Jim Boeheim has beaten a No. 1 team,” said Fennelly, whose No. 24 Cyclones battle top-ranked Baylor in Wednesday’s 7 p.m. Big 12 game at Hilton Coliseum. “That’s four times for a guy who’s won gazillions of games. Those opportunities don’t come very often.”
But they are coming with increasing regularity for ISU (13-3, 4-2).
The Brittney Griner-led Bears (16-1, 6-0) have been atop the rankings five times in the last 24 months when facing the Cyclones.
ISU kept it close throughout two of those meetings, losing by 12 points on the road in 2011 and at home last season.
“Hopefully we’ll give our fans some fun moments,” Fennelly said.
Last season, the Cyclones led 26-24 early in the second half, but Baylor struck for a 10-0 run and maintained at least a two-possession lead the rest of the game.
“There are certain things that have got to go right,” Fennelly said. “One of those things is you’ve got to make shots. And you’ve got to be able to not have an offense that leads to their offense. Their defense is so good, when they take the ball from you, it’s usually a layup. It happens fast.”
It took a while the last time in Hilton, however, and part of the reason stemmed from focusing on the small, not the big picture.
“It’s another game,” said ISU forward Hallie Christofferson, a bright spot with 14 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s loss at No. 12 Oklahoma State. “You just have to look past Griner, I guess.”
Not an easy task.
Griner spearheaded last year’s win in Ames with 26 points and a stringent defensive effort on Cyclone forward Chelsea Poppens.
Attempts to stunt Griner’s main stat line, Fennelly said, end up being relatively fruitless endeavors.
“You just want to make sure she doesn’t totally dictate how the game goes,” he said. “Don’t let her get offensive rebounds. Don’t commit silly fouls. You know she’s going to score. She’s scored on anyone she’s ever played against, so don’t panic on that.”
Instead, replace it with different emotions, Christofferson said.
“Having that opportunity to play someone that’s No. 1 is great,” she said. “We just have to bring our energy and our enthusiasm to have a chance to win.”