WBB: Cyclones Not Backing Down From Griner, Baylor

By Rob Gray, Reporter

Iowa State forward Chelsea Poppens, center, attempts to get through Baylor defenders Ashley Field, left, and Brittney Griner (42) for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

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By Grant Burkhardt

AMES, Iowa — It’s Baylor and the rest.

Essentially, that’s Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly’s view on the always-deep Big 12 the Brittney Griner-led No. 1 Bears tower over.

“We’re all going to play 16 games and beat each other up,” said Fennelly, whose No. 25 team faces said Bears at 7 p.m. Wednesday on the road. “The other two, you play Baylor. I know that’s not the politically correct thing to say, but I learned a long time ago, don’t lie to people. So that’s the way it is.”

So it goes.

On to Waco.

Game plan in tow.

“We won’t back down,” Cyclone forward Chelsea Poppens said.

It’s not that beating the Bears (12-1, 2-0 Big 12) is impossible — they dropped a two-point decision on Nov. 16 to No. 5 Stanford after point guard Odyssey Sims got hurt and played only four minutes.

ISU (11-1, 2-0) played the defending national champions tough twice last season, falling by 12 points at home.

The Cyclones led early in the second half at Waco before being hit by a press-fueled avalanche that sent them tumbling to a 24-point loss.

So what’s the blueprint to success?

It’s more of a formula — an advanced one.

“You’ve got to make a lot of shots,” Fennelly said. “You’ve got to keep them off the free throw line. You’ve got to hope they’re missing a little bit.”

That’s just for starters.

“You’ve just got to keep them out of those — like Sunday: Oklahoma State is 23-23 (with Baylor before losing 83-49),” Fennelly said. “And as God as my witness, it’s 23-23, I went to the copy machine, came back, and it was 40-26. And it was 90 seconds? Two minutes? It happens so fast. Unfortunately they don’t give you 12 timeouts … You’ve just got to hang around and hang around and when that moment comes — here comes the knockout punch, duck. Or hang on. Or get up against the ropes. Or something.”

Griner, the 6-8 senior Olympian, swings hardest, on both ends of the floor.

She’s the first NCAA women’s player to notch both 2,000 career points and 500 blocked shots.

Fennelly considers her perhaps the best women’s basketball player ever — and her attention-grabbing dunks may be the least exciting aspect of her game.

“I think it’s unfortunate for her, sometimes, that everyone focuses on her dunking,” Fennelly said. “I know it’s unique to our sport. I know that’s how the highlights are driven. But that kid is a great basketball player.”

Cue the challenge.

Not impossible.

But pretty near it.

“I think it’s always fun playing them,” said ISU forward Anna Prins, who drained a single game career-high four 3-pointers at Baylor last season. “At least for me, I don’t feel any pressure playing them. If I get my shot blocked, it won’t be the first, it won’t be the last. … We can probably take a lot from this game.”

MEN GET BIG TEST, TOO: While Iowa State’s women take on top-ranked Baylor Wednesday night, the Cyclone men will try to beat No. 6 Kansas at Lawrence for the first time since 2005. “You have to go out there and play a smart basketball game,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “If you don’t, it will be over in a hurry.” The men’s game tips at 6 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. The women’s game will be broadcast on the less ubiquitous FCS Central.

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