Fennelly: ISU Focuses on Smith, Thorburn

Hours before the Cyclones were set to leave for Fresno and the first round of the NCAA Tournament, head coach Bill Fennelly previewed his team's game against Utah on Saturday night in a question-and-answer session.

CN: First of all, give us your scouting report on Utah.

Fennelly: The big thing with them is they have two great players, Kim Smith and Shona Thorburn. They were co-players of the year in the Mountain West, and score about half their points. They play on the Canadian National Team, so they not only have collegiate experience but international experience. That's where it's got to start. We're always a team that focuses on the other team's best players.

They're a team that we cannot let dictate the tempo of the game. They like to play upper 50s and lower 60s. We need to try to create some tempo there. They are a very good half-court defensive team, so we need to see if we can get some transition points. We need to be ready to take some tough shots. When you get in the NCAA Tournament, there aren't a whole lot of wide open looks at the basket anymore.

Defensively, we are going to have to change defenses a little bit to keep them off balance. They are a very smart team and have great general understanding of the game of basketball. It's a very well-coached team. We'll go with a little zone, little man, and some junk. We need to find something that will work for us. We haven't had a game in 10 days, so the challenge is to get into a game mode as quickly as possible.

Hopefully Anne (O'Neil) is healthy. She has practiced 20 minutes since the Texas Tech game. That's kind of the approach we've taken up to this point. We're going to practice (Thursday) morning and then head out. We need a good day today. You only get 50 minutes in Fresno to practice on the court, so that will be mainly shooting time. The work has to be done today.

CN: Do you expect O'Neil to practice today?

Fennelly: I hope so. Anne said she wanted to try and practice, but that was before she got up this morning and knew how here foot would feel. She did absolutely nothing from the Texas Tech game until Tuesday. She probably went about 20 minutes Tuesday and didn't do anything yesterday. She didn't even dress for practice and was in a walking boot. It's a big issue for us and hopefully she'll be ready to go.

Timing and game planning has been hard. When she is in the game we play a very different style than when Lisa (Kriener) and Katie (Robinette) are in together. It's given us a chance to look at some other options. I'm hoping she'll practice today. I know she will play on Saturday, but it's just a matter of how effective she can be. Timing is always a factor with a basketball player.

CN: Does Utah remind you of any other Big 12 teams, like perhaps Kansas State?

Fennelly: Yes, that's the team we've kind of talked to our kids about. They're very efficient offensively and have a lot of options. They do a great job of using every single player in their offense. Defensively, they're man-to-man most of the time and position-oriented.

There is not a lot of full-court pressure defense, but they're very smart and will make you hit shots. They won't give you layups and anything easy. So I think they're very much like K-State in that regard. They have a couple really great players and some others that if you forget about them they can really hurt you.

CN: With Anne's condition, have you challenged any other players to step it up in practice this week?

Fennelly: When you get into this tournament and the one-and-done mentality, there are usually opportunities for someone to rise above and find another level. We have challenged all of our kids. Our perimeter players have to shoot the ball better. Our post players have to be more efficient.

No matter who we play over one game or six games, we're going to be the shortest team on the court. You've got to find ways to rebound the ball. Our post players have to finish around the basket. When you get an opportunity to score, you've got to score. Defensively, you've got to shut down the other team's best players and then take your chances.

CN: How does this team balance the excitement of playing in an NCAA Tournament with the seriousness it takes to prepare for opponents?

Fennelly: It's a matter of walking that fine line between really enjoying the experience and having that competitive edge that allows you to win games and play at a high level. We have talked a lot about that, too. It doesn't matter who you play or where you're seeded, we want to be the team that plays harder than anybody else in the tournament, and at the same time we want to be the team that enjoys the experience more than anyone else.

It's fun to go to California, the weather is nice, and it's a brand new venue. It will be a true NCAA experience. Iowa State's got the country covered. We've got East Coast to West Coast. We have plans made and have found a place, even though it's 9:30 in the morning, to get together and watch the men's game. We're going to enjoy this.

CN: As if you need any more incentive this time of the year, but the Cyclones could make a return trip to ‘Hilton South' by winning two games in Fresno. How much is this on the mind of your players?

Fennelly: It's been discussed, no question. That's a great carrot to stick out in front of them. It would take a huge effort, but it's possible. Our kids love Kansas City. One of the last times we were in a Regional was in Kansas City. We had a great run down there. It's no question that's something we've talked about.

Because of the timeline and cost of getting to California, a lot of people are saying ‘get to Kansas City and we'll be there.' A lot of our players and fans are thinking about it. That's something we're dreaming about, and it would be a great next step for us. Like everyone else, the first thing is to get through the first four minutes of the first game without tripping over yourselves or throwing up in the trash can.

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