By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
During the course of any season there are games that stand out as key games, and unranked West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team plays one of those games at 8 tonight when it travels to Ames, Iowa, to face the No. 13/9 Iowa State Cyclones.
After losing its season opener to Ohio State, Mike Carey’s Mountaineers ran off 13 in a row before a solid Baylor team beat them pretty good at home with Odyssey Sims scoring a record 48 points.
They rebounded from that loss to beat a good Texas team in overtime at home, but if they want to string together another win streak and gain national recognition, this is a game that could go a long way toward attaining both goals.
Winning this game is not an impossible task for the Mountaineers, for Iowa State is coming off its first loss of the year after 14 straight victories, falling to an Oklahoma State team that WVU upset earlier.
A year ago, West Virginia went into Ames and defeated the then No. 24 Cyclones 68-66 in a thriller, gaining revenge for a four-point home loss three weeks earlier.
Iowa State presents a different challenge than did a tall group from Texas in WVU’s last game.
“Iowa State shoots a bunch of 3s,” Carey noted.
They are leading the Big 12 by hitting 37.6 percent of those 3s, averaging 10 a game, which also leads the conference.
Senior forward Haillie Christofferson is the Big 12’s second-leading scorer to Baylor’s Sims, averaging 21.0 points per game while hitting 51.2 percent of her shots. And, even though she is a frontcourt player who is second in the conference in rebounding with 7.9, she will step out and take 3s, owning 19 of them this year.
“Their best player last year was their 3. Well she’s playing the 5 now, but she pops out and shoots a bunch of 3s. They do all kinds of things,” Carey said.
Asya Bussie will be charged with guarding her, a difficult assignment for a center.
“Asya is going to be on the perimeter a lot and that takes her away from the basket, so our guards are going to have to rebound well,” Carey noted.
Iowa State averages 79.1 points a game and plays strong defense, giving up but 57.7 points a game.
In its only loss, Iowa State managed to make just three 3s.
“You live by the 3, you die by the 3,” Carey said.
Speaking of that, while WVU has shot very poorly recently, Christal Caldwell showed signs of breaking out of her shooting slump against Texas, which would be a big boost to the offense which shot just 26.5 percent against Texas.
Caldwell and Averee Fields led WVU 12 points each, but it was Chrystal Leary who turned the game around when she replaced Bussie after the center had gotten into early foul trouble.
“The key was when Asya got in foul trouble and Texas was so big. I put Leary in there to guard their 6-7 girl, and she just did a fantastic job,” Carey said. “They saw Asya was out and thought they could force the ball in to the 6-7 girl, but Crystal will play hard and fight and battle in there and got a bunch of turnovers.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.