It's called Hilton Magic, and for the last decade, Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly's Cyclone basketball teams have been among the top programs in the Big 12. NCAA Sweet 16 appearances became common, and Hilton Coliseum became one of the most intimidating homecourt advantages in all of college basketball -- men's or women's.
Kansas State coach Deb Patterson said there is a cycle in the Big 12, though, and the past few seasons have seen Iowa State struggle through a rebuilding effort while programs such as Kansas State and Colorado have risen to the top. Past and present will meet head-to-head at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the No. 10 Wildcats take on the Cyclones at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa.
"Their fans get crazy when any ranked team comes to their house," said junior forward Kendra Wecker, who will make her 86th-straight start despite lingering injuries. "They've got some big wins up there. They're a good basketball team."
Iowa State (10-8, 3-4) is 7-2 at Hilton this season, with notable upset wins against then-No. 2 Texas Tech and No. 15 Oklahoma inside of a week. But Wecker said that intimidating atmosphere, with more than 10,000 fans expected, doesn't get to a veteran squad that has played before packed houses at Texas Tech and in the NCAA tournament within the past year.
"We've played up there enough that we're used to the atmosphere," Wecker said. "But we have to be ready to play a great game."
The Cyclones are led by Anne O'Neil, an Illinois transfer who averaged 16 points in the teams' two meetings last season. O'Neil is averaging a team-best 13.6 points per game and 4.7 assists per game this season, and in the Cyclones' last win, a 66-58 decision at Texas A&M in which Fennelly won his 350th career game, O'Neil dazzled. The junior scored 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
O'Neil will likely be shadowed all game by junior guard Megan Mahoney, who Patterson said excelled defensively in the Wildcats' 74-65 win over Oklahoma last Saturday.
"Megan's play, to me, was extraordinary," Patterson said. "In the first half I didn't think she was on her game yet. In the second half I thought she made us the quality of basketball team we were in the second 20 minutes. She went and got rebounds that changed the game."
But as much of a premium Kansas State (15-3, 6-1) puts on defense, the same can be said of the Cyclones, who haven't given up more than 76 points in a game all season. They've held their last nine opponents to an average of just 60 points per game.
"I think with the zone they try to slow things down a lot and make you take tough shots," Wecker said. "You think you're open but you don't know if you want to take (the shot). They'll probably play that zone against us, so we have to be confident and comfortable."
Things aren't about to get much more comfortable in the Big 12 for the Wildcats, though. A game against No. 11 Colorado looms before a rematch with Nebraska, who beat the Wildcats earlier this season. Kansas State then has games against Texas A&M, at Missouri and with Iowa State before finishing away and home against Big 12 South powers Texas and Texas Tech.
"It's a battle every night out in the Big 12," Kansas State guard Megan Mahoney said. "To get a win is a great. Right now we're in contention for a Big 12 Championship and we have to keep fighting."
Probable Starting Lineups
Iowa State (10-8, 3-4)
G 10 Erica Junod 8.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg
G 12 Anne O'Neil 13.6 ppg, 4.7 apg
G 14 Lyndsey Medders 8.5 ppg, 3.6 apg
G 31 Megan Ronhovde 7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg
C 51 Brittany Wilkins 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Kansas State (15-3, 6-1)
G 10 Laurie Koehn 14.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg
F 34 Megan Mahoney 8.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg
F 45 Amy Dutmer 1.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg
F 53 Kendra Wecker 15.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg
C 03 Nicole Ohlde 17.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg
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