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AMES - Returning from winter break to find a Big 12 game next on the schedule might be the best attention grabber Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly could have hoped for.
Fennelly's Cyclones have won six straight games - including a road win at Northern Iowa and home win against Iowa - after a 2-3 start. But just as he always has, Fennelly will ask his team to turn its focus again.
A road trip to Kansas State on Wednesday won't allow Iowa State to think about anything else.
'The players come back and you get their attention a little quicker because they're going to play a conference game rather than playing a home game or in a tournament against a team you would probably beat and you just kind of ease into it a little bit,” Fennelly said. 'You're not easing into anything.”
The last three weeks have been about the Cyclones (8-3) piecing their rotation together steadily. Kidd Blaskowsky, Jadda Buckley and Seanna Johnson have been the constants, but getting freshmen Bridget Carleton - who sat out with an injury during spurts in Novemeber and December - and Meredith Burkhall to contribute regularly along with Bry Fernstrom is what Iowa State had to figure out.
Four ISU's starters, minus Blaskowsky, are averaging double-figure scoring with Johnson leading the way at 16.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Johnson is fourth in the nation with eight double-doubles this season and said she used being snubbed on the preseason all-Big 12 team as an extra motivator through the early portion of the schedule.
'It's motivating me, but I just want to win. I don't think about any of that anymore,” Johnson said. 'It was something that I used for motivation, but it's just like I want to get my teammates better. I want to win so anything I have to do; rebound, score or get assists, I'll do it. If it gets me on the Big 12 team at the end of the season, then it does.”
Iowa State is shooting 31 percent from 3-point range this season, down slightly from 33 percent a year ago, but the Wildcats (10-1) could prove to be a team that brings the Cyclones out of their shooting struggles. Kansas State - with a lone loss to No. 1 Connecticut - plays primarily zone and with Carleton, Blaskowsky and Emily Durr shooting 35 percent or better from long range, the different defense will be a welcomed change of pace.
'You want to shoot a good shot and not pass up a great shot, but I think it's going to come along,” Blaskowsky said. 'Playing K-State, they're 95 percent going to run a zone so we're going to get 3s, we're going to get open looks at the basket and we've got to be ready to shoot.”
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