Bill Fennelly will never take earning an NCAA Tournament bid for granted.
Never, ever, ever — even though Monday night his Iowa State Cyclones became one of 10 teams nationally to be selected for the ninth straight year.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of a number of these over the years,” said Fennelly, whose 10th-seeded Cyclones will take on No. 7-seed Dayton at 11 a.m. Friday at Lexington, Ky. “They’re all different. They’re all unique. It’s one of those things where every time you do it it never get old. If it does get old, you need to quit.”
Fennelly brings up that word — “quit” — occasionally, but only in hypothetical terms. In real terms, he and his teams never consider it, hence their staying power when it comes to the tournament.
“As a senior, going all four years, that’s something that the three of us had in the back of our mind coming into it,” said senior Brynn Williamson, while referencing fellow seniors Nikki Moody and Fallon Ellis. "Every year we’ve had that player that kind of stepped up and we knew that we could play behind them. I think at different points this season,each of us have kind of stepped up. I think that’s what kind of held this team together.”
ISU experienced a topsy-turvy 2014-15 campaign that included a season-ending foot injury to starting guard Jadda Buckley in January, a sweep of Texas, wins over Baylor and Oklahoma, and … two losses to ninth-place Kansas along with one to last-place Texas Tech.
The Cyclones (18-12) showed they could beat the best, but struggled at times against foes down the list in the Big 12 standings. None of that matters anymore.
“I’ve said this a million times: I don’t care what the number is to the left,” said Fennelly, who has guided ISU to all 16 of its NCAA Tournament berths. "I just wanted a number.”
Speaking of numbers, the first person to dial up Fennelly’s via text message was men’s coach Fred Hoiberg. The second person to text? ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard, who is recovering from open heart triple bypass surgery.
“It says a lot about the kind of people that we have here and the connection between the programs,” Fennelly said. Hoiberg’s text noted the proximity between the men’s and women’s sites. “It said, ‘Let’s take over Kentucky,’” Fennelly said. “So it will be fun.”
Lexington is situated roughly 80 miles east of Louisville — where the third-seeded Cyclone men will begin what they hope is a second straight deep run in their tournament against No. 14-seed UAB a day before the women suit up.
“It’s going to be nice playing in the same state,” said Moody, who set the Cyclones’ all-time assist mark this season.
Of course, it’s nice to be playing, period. The more the merrier. ISU is one of four schools to field both men’s and women’s teams that have advanced to four consecutive tournaments.
Last season, the women were a No. 7 seed and lost to 10th-seeded Florida State in the first round. Moody said the juxtaposition this time around added motivational fuel.
“Now it’s the opposite,” Moody said. “I feel like we can be that No. 10 to beat a No. 7."