Last season Nikki Moody found herself being the lone point guard for Iowa State after reserve guard Emiah Bingley transferred from the program mid-season.
Bingley ended up at Florida State, leaving Moody, a sophomore, as the only player who could bring the ball up the floor. She went on to lead the Big 12 and ended up third nationally in assists per game (7.4), but it was a 1.66 assist/turnover ratio which had the coaches and the fans frustrated.
“We have to turn the ball over less,” head coach Bill Fennelly said. “With that said, I think Nikki had a great sophomore year when you consider that she literally was our only person on the team that could dribble the ball [last season]. She had a lot of pressure on her. I had individual meetings with every player during the offseason and we discussed how she needs to be more consistent offensively. We are going to spread the court a little bit more so she can get to the rim. We have to take her off the ball a little to allow her to stay in the game. It is pretty hard to handle the ball for forty minutes a game.”
Nevertheless, Moody spent her offseason preparing to carry a similar load.
“This summer I watched a lot of film to learn my mistakes,” Moody said. “I also worked on my shooting to be more consistent from the field, and try to get to the basket and finish around the rim. I am trying to be more creative on things off the dribble too so hopefully I can get the defense to help and I can find the open player for an easy basket.”
Fennelly has tailored parts of his offense around Moody's ability to drive to the basket, spreading the floor to give her room to operate.
Fennelly and his staff have also added two talented young guards to help push the ball in his up-tempo offense and give Moody a rest. Jadda Buckley and Seanna Johnson are both freshmen guards who had many offers out of high school. Both are used to pushing tempo on fast breaks and should bring instant success to this season’s team.
“Jadda and Seanna both from day one are going to be a major part of our plans,” Fennelly said. “They are both going to play a lot of minutes. Jadda will add another ball handler which we desperately need. One of the things I think Jadda can do is defend at the Big 12 level, she embraces that a little bit.”
Buckley averaged 3.8 steals per game as a senior in high school, and Johnson over 4; opposing teams better take good care of the ball, or they just might find the Cyclones running down the court for an easy bucket.
“Defense is awesome, I love that part of the game,” Buckley said. “If you can get a good stop on defense it should be able to open the transition into the offense and hopefully get us some easy points. I feel like whatever I need to do in order to help this team win, I will. Right now I just want to be as coachable as I can be so I’m ready for the season and help our team succeed.”
Added Johnson: “Throughout the summer, Nikki and I worked out a lot together with one on one drills. I’m excited to get out there and help our team. Coach wants to push the tempo and that’s the same way we played in high school, so I’m excited about that. Right now I’m working on building my strength and conditioning to get bigger and handle the Big 12 season.”
Buckley and Johnson should prove to be big pickups, especially as Iowa State gravitates toward a four-guard offense. But even more crucial to the team's success could be the improvements Moody's made.
"Most players we’ve had here make the biggest jump in between their sophomore and junior years," Fennelly said. "That is where Nikki is as she has started for two years and now it’s, 'Do you want to be a good player and play a lot of minutes or do you want to be considered special?'"