By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
The Iowa State women’s basketball program is elite. How so? The Cyclones are going back to the Sweet 16 for the second season in a row. Only four other programs in all of America (UCONN, Stanford, Oklahoma and Baylor) can say that.
Iowa State outlasted 12th-seeded Green Bay 60-56 on Tuesday night and on Sunday; the Cyclones will be rewarded with a date against top-ranked and undefeated UCONN (35-0). The “unbeatable” Huskies intimidate most schools. After all, they did humiliate a good Temple (25-9) team by a laughable 90-36 on Tuesday night.
So at this point, the Cyclones have two options on how to approach Sunday’s game. Iowa State can be happy just making the Sweet 16. Or, they can prepare to shock college basketball’s giant.
If you know Bill Fennelly at all, you should know the answer.
“Everybody knows that I am nuts,” Fennelly said after the game. “I am excited to play them. Why not? It is the best team that I have ever seen on the biggest stage you can have. Our school is going to get a lot of attention. Iowa State University is going to be talked about forever this week. It is exciting. That is what this tournament is about.”
Fennelly is fearless. And his team plays just like he coaches.
Take Kelsey Bolte for instance. For the majority of the Green Bay game, Iowa State’s best marksman was having a terrible shooting night. At halftime, she was 2-of-7 from the field and 1-of-4 from 3-point range. Her final numbers on the night were 5-of-18 and 3-of-11. She was short on her shots. She looked out of whack. It was just a bad, bad night for her, a pure shooter.
But Bolte never gave up. Like most gunslingers do, she kept plugging away. And guess who hit a 3-pointer with 1:19 to go that ultimately won Iowa State the game? That’s right. The fearless Kelsey Bolte.
“Sometimes good players miss shots,” Fennelly said. “But you have to be a good player and take that shot. A lot of kids miss a couple and they kind of hide. We ran three plays in a row for her. I told her during one of the media timeouts, she had that look in her eye and was getting really frustrated and a little tired. She stood up and I said, ‘hey, you might as well hit the one that wins the game and nobody will care how many you missed.’ “
There were a handful of fearless performances by Cyclones on Tuesday night.
The play of freshman Jessica Schroll is noteworthy. Schroll scored all nine of her points in the first half, which proved to be crucial in keeping the Cyclones within striking distance.
“She is athletic and competitive, but she made some energy plays for us, “ Fennelly said. “For her to play 15 minutes and get nine points was really big for us. Really big minutes for a time in the game.”
Two other freshmen belong on my fearless list today. At points in the game when none of her teammates could throw a rock in the ocean, Anna Prins was knocked down 3-pointers. She was 3-for-3 from behind the arc last night to score 13 points. Prins was 5-of-8 from the field so she was efficient and yes, don’t forget fearless.
And then there is Chelsea Poppens, who I am starting to refer to as Iowa State’s rebounding version of Dennis Rodman. To me, Poppens’ game defines the word fearless. On the basketball floor, Poppens has no regard for the safety of her body. No loose ball is out of reach. No rebound is unattainable. Let’s say it one more time Fanatics. Last night, Poppens was fearless.
By now, you all should know that Alison Lacey is in this club.
This team plays just like Fennelly coaches. That is one major compliment to everybody involved.
Iowa State’s season could have very well ended last night. In fact, some might say that it should have. A very determined mid-major team had the BCS School down 10-0 early. Shots kept dropping for the Phoenix, while the Cyclones struggled to even hit a free throw at times.
But the Cyclones and Fennelly hung on.
Enjoy this win Fanatics. Your Cyclones are going back to the Sweet 16. We’ll save talking about UCONN for Thursday and Friday.