By Rob Gray
AMES — They showed fire.
Maybe even brilliance.
All but two minutes and 55 seconds of Iowa State’s game two weeks ago at Texas pointed toward a Cyclone victory.
But — yes, obviously, there’s a “but” — a Brady Sanders 3-pointer with less than three minutes remaining gave the Longhorns their first lead and they went on to surge to a 71-64 win.
Cue today’s 7 p.m. rematch at Hilton Coliseum.
ISU (17-8, 6-8 Big 12) needs a complete game against Texas (17-9, 8-6) to bolster hopes for an eighth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
The Cyclones’ recipe for success is based in the same ingredients as before, but with a finishing twist.
“I just think of how we came out right from the start with the energy that we brought right away,” said ISU guard Jadda Buckley, who had 14 points and a team-high five assists in the previous meeting. “We were playing hard. We were playing as a team. We just had really good chemistry out on the court, so I think that’s going to be huge to bring that into (this game) as well.”
Also huge: Avoiding foul trouble.
Cyclone point guard Nikki Moody shined in Austin, scoring 19 points in 34 minutes, but the final seven minutes of the game she shuttled in and out with four fouls — until she drew her fifth with 21 seconds left.
“We just don’t have the depth to overcome that,” said ISU Coach Bill Fennelly, whose team is 8-2 all-time against Texas at Hilton. “We’ve got to be smarter about that and try to figure out ways to keep our kids, our key players, in the game more minutes than we have been.”
The Cyclones are 0-3 in Big 12 games in which Moody has fouled out or been whistled for four fouls.
They also suffer when star forward Hallie Christofferson, who ranks second in the conference i scoring at 18.8 points per game, encounters foul trouble.
She’s drawn three or more fouls in nine of the past 11 games — a stretch in which ISU is 3-8.
“When they’re on the bench we really struggle,” Fennelly said.
Christofferson and Moody are the Cyclones’ top two scorers.
They also rank second and third in rebounding — the facet of the game Fennelly said will be key against the Longhorns.
Texas outrebounded ISU 43-29 in Austin and features 6-7 post Imani McGee-Stafford and 6-5 freshman Kelsey Lang.
“We’re all much smaller, but I feel like we’re a lot tougher down low,” said reserve forward Fallon Ellis, a native Texan who played with and against Lang in AAU ball. “I think we can handle it down low with the bigger girls. I feel like I can — just try to hold my ground.”
That’s the can-do attitude that led to 37 minutes of success against Texas and an unprecedented 14-0 start to the season.
It’s needed today — as is better 3-point shooting.
The Cyclones are mired in another long-range funk, shooting a combined 6-for-37 in the past two games.
“It’s obviously frustrating, as a shooter you want to see your shots go in all the time,” said Buckley, by far ISU’s best 3-point shooter at 43 percent. “But I think it has to fall sooner or later. We just have to keep shooting.”
Yes, they do.
“You just hope that at some point it comes back,” Fennelly said. “There aren’t many 40 minutes left. You want to feel like we’re doing what we can do and hopefully they break out if it.”
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