Cyclone Challenge stands in path of ISU’s perfect start

AMES – The Iowa State men’s basketball team is off to its best start in school history and the women’s squad isn’t far behind.

Entering today’s annual Cyclone Challenge at 9-0, the Iowa State women’s basketball team can post the school’s third undefeated non-conference season with a pair of wins this weekend at Hilton Coliseum.

The No. 14 Cyclones host Holy Cross (7-2) today at 3:30 p.m. and are just three victories shy of the program’s best start of 12-0, which ISU reached in 1995-96 and 2001-02.

Saint Louis (5-6) tips thing off with William & Mary (2-7) at 1 p.m. The winners will face off in the championship Sunday at 3:30 p.m., following the consolation final at 1 p.m.

Playing its first game since an 83-70 victory over Iowa more than two weeks ago, Iowa State will have to slow down another versatile and fast-paced attack in the Crusaders.

“They play very fastthey’re very balanced,” said ISU coach Bill Fennelly.

“They spread you out. The thing that jumps out for us is make or miss, they’re going to push you up the court.

Holy Cross averages just shy of 74 points a game with Raquel Scott (16.4) and Alex Smith (16.1) leading the way. Scott is pulling down a team-high nine rebounds a night and Smith has the nation’s sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.75, while the team is 14th overall at 1.31.

“Their assist-to-turnover ratio is really good,” said Fennelly.

“It’s a big credit to the way they run their stuff. They take care of the ballStatistically, they do things the right way.”

Smith is also a threat from outside and has connected on 31 3-pointers at a 43 percent clip, while Brisje Malone and Lisa Misfud have converted 36 and 34 percent respectively.

Malone is pouring in 10.9 points per contest, while Johnston grad Emily Parker (10.1) and Misfud (9.9) are also dependable scorers. Holy Cross won its first six games of the season before losing two of its last three including a 77-60 setback to Boston College on Dec. 21.

Hallie Christofferson guides ISU’s prolific offense with 24.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per outing. The senior ranks ninth nationally in scoring and is followed by a quintet averaging between 8.9 and 11.6 points a game. Two-time Big 12 Freshman of the Week Seanna Johnson is second with 11.6 points and leads the team with 8.7 rebounds, while Nikki Moody (10.9) is handing out six assists a night and holds the school’s single season record at 238. Jadda Buckley (9.9) is coming off a career-high 19-point effort against Iowa while Brynn Williamson (9.8) and Kidd Blaskowsky (8.9) have also emerged in the Cyclones’ attack.

Offensive prowess aside, Iowa State still has some kinks to work out defensively.

Fennelly questioned his team’s top-15 ranking after the win over the Hawkeyes and is seeking more stability from his squad, while also focusing on the Crusaders.

“It’s a little bit hard because you’ve got one foot so worried about your team and one foot worried about the other team that you’re trying to balance the two,” said Fennelly.

“For us to be a team that is that good (top-15), we have to get out of the situation where we’re taking possessions off. We’re committing some silly fouls because we’re out of position, we’re forgetting to guard from time to time.”

Iowa State is just one of seven undefeated teams in the country and has displayed great effort and chemistry so far, though Fennelly believes his squad has a higher ceiling to work toward and some areas to improve heading into Big 12 play on Jan. 2 at TCU.

“It’s finding that next level of ‘Are you satisfied with where you are and how good do you want to be individually and collectively,'” said Fennelly.

“This is an important time. I told them, ‘It’s 16 or 17 days where it’s the only time you can be a basketball player and you don’t have to be a student. How hard do you want to work at it?'”

An undefeated non-conference slate would get things moving in the right direction heading into 2014.

“Our team has limitations, but every team does,” said Fennelly.

“Now the key is, how do you cover up yours and exploit the other guy’s?”