By Rob Gray
AMES — Iowa State’s Jadda Buckley takes slight exception to the reference.
Yes, she’s a freshman.
No, she doesn’t feel like one (much) — and either way, it’s immaterial at this point in the season.
“I just kind of throw that whole status thing out the window,” said Buckley, who scored 26 points in the Cyclones’ 86-69 upset win Wednesday at No. 15 Oklahoma State. “It’s just all about going out and playing hard, doing what you need to do.”
ISU (19-8, 8-8 Big 12) certainly did that against the Cowgirls and hopes to parlay the dominant performance into a late-season run that includes Saturday's 7 p.m. stop at Kansas.
“Every game from now on is a big game,” said Cyclone point guard Nikki Moody, who narrowly missed a triple-double in Stillwater with nine points, 10 rebonds and 10 assists.
Wednesday was undeniably huge, too — a high-quality road win that almost certainly locked up the Cyclones’ eighth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
Buckley played her best overall game, draining 5 of 8 3-point attempts, doling out five assists and snaring two steals.
It’s the stage more than the stats that impressed ISU Coach Bill Fennelly — and Buckley wasn’t the only freshman who shined.
So did Seanna Johnson, who scored 14 points in 6 of 8 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds.
“Not just the numbers, but when and where it happened,” said Fennelly, whose team has won three of its last four and seeks a regular season sweep of the Jayhawks. “When you go on the road in a game like that and your freshmen get 40 points, that’s pretty good. I thought they were both really good.”
Buckley’s been especially good in the state of Oklahoma.
She scored a career-high 29 points in an 82-75 overtime win at Oklahoma in January.
“I don’t know if it’s the state or what it is, but it was fun to play there,” Buckley said. “We had a great game there (Wednesday). … We came out fighting right away.”
That fight continues and intensifies.
Now it’s about seeding — for the conference tournament in Oklahoma City and the NCAA's opening rounds in Ames.“The challenge is to keep moving forward,” Fennelly said. “I think the game at Kansas does a lot, because the strength of schedule for them helps — they’re the only team in our league to beat Baylor. So you know what you’re getting into. It’s a time of year when you’re excited to play. … We’ll see what they want to do with it.”