Women's Basketball

Observations from ISU WBB’s first exhibition

AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team rode a dominant second half to a 79-36 win over Midwestern State in their first exhibition game Thursday night.

Eight of the nine Cyclones that saw the floor made it into the scoring column and several newcomers made good first impressions in their first time on the floor at Hilton Coliseum.

Here are the things I liked, the things I didn’t like and what I’m still wondering heading into the Cyclones’ second exhibition on Sunday at 2 p.m. against Concordia University – St. Paul in Ames.

Things I liked

The versatility of Seanna Johnson

At this point everybody and their dog knows that junior guard (Or is she a forward?) Seanna Johnson is good. On Tuesday night, she displayed the versatility that could make her one of the Big 12’s most dynamic players by scoring 16 points, grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out four assists.

Not only did Johnson continue to be productive in isolation situations on the offensive end, especially when starting at the free throw line/elbow area, but she was also dynamite leading the fast break. There are few players that can grab a rebound and push it towards the other end like Johnson, then add in her ability to see the floor or finish? That just makes for a lethal combination.

“Seanna is a kid that has missed probably 80 percent of practice and she goes out there and looks like she never missed anything,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said after Tuesday’s game. “Makes plays and rebounds. I mean, she starts the game at the four and ends it at point guard… She’s good in the open floor, she sees the court, she’s got a basketball IQ that’s very high.”

It was interesting to see Coach Fennelly use Johnson in a “point forward” type role at times when Buckley was on the bench, and as effective as it was on Tuesday I would expect to see it again.

Freshmen impress

Only two of the Cyclones’ highly touted true freshmen were able to play, guard TeeTee Starks sat out with a concussion, but it was clear why Fennelly expects them to make an impact from the jump.

Guard Bridget Carleton scored 16 points, including an impressive run of nine straight during the first half, and grabbed five rebounds, while her freshman comrade Meredith Burkhall poured in 14 points, on 7-of-9 shooting, and snagged seven boards of her own.

Carleton showed why people have called her a matchup nightmare as she got the rim multiple times, then also knocked down two of ISU’s four 3-pointers.  I was also surprised by the physicality and endurance she showed during her 36 minutes on the floor.

“She’s got a chance to be really good,” Fennelly said. “We’re asking Bridget to do a lot. There’s some things that she can do better, but she’s a kid that can play multiple positions, she can score. She’s someone that really wants to be good.”

Burkhall on the other hand was just as impressive. She showed craftiness on the block, the ability to shoot from the mid-range and that she isn’t going to back down on the boards.

Who knows how all of this will carry over when it’s Baylor in town and not Midwestern State, but the freshmen made a good first impression. It’s easy to see why Fennelly is excited.

ISU bigs running the floor

There are few things in the game of basketball that get me more hyped that bigs that run the floor. Iowa State has a pair of them in Burkhall and redshirt freshman Claire Ricketts that will beat their defender down the floor almost every possession.

That’s gold if you’re a coach.

During the game, I predicted on Twitter that bigs running from rim to rim will lead to at least one bucket per game for the Cyclones. Mark it down.  

Iowa State in the second half

The Cyclones really struggled during the first half of the exhibition on Tuesday, but the second half was a whole different story. After shooting 33 percent from the floor in the first, Iowa State shot 56 percent in the second and outscored Midwestern State 47-12.

“I’ve done this a long time and it’s amazing how much better you play when you make shots,” Fennelly said. “We missed so many layups in the first half and we’re a team that has historically made threes. We didn’t make anything. You make shots and we were a little better defensively, but offensively we were much better.”

There were a lot of one-liners that I heard during my basketball playing career. There is one that has always stuck with me, and always will.

“Win the first four minutes of each half.”

It was my high school assistant coach’s motto. On Tuesday night, the Cyclones won the first four minutes 8-0, part of their 21-0 run to start the half.

The first four minutes can be the difference between a close game and a blowout. Iowa State buckled down Tuesday night and made sure it was the latter.

Things I didn’t like

Three-point shooting

I plan to do things I didn’t like from each game during the season, but when the Cyclones win 79-36, and turns the ball over just six times, it’s tough to point out things I don’t like. Really, the only black mark on the stat sheet was the 4-for-18 performance from behind the arc.

Iowa State started 1-for-14 from deep. That’s something I would imagine Coach Fennelly will be focusing on in practice leading up to the first regular season game next week.   

Things I’m still wondering

How much zone will we see from ISU?

The Cyclones switched to a 2-3 zone at the beginning of the second half, and it had the Mustangs absolutely bamboozled. ISU had nine steals and forced 15 turnovers after the switch.

But the question is: How much will the Cyclones use it moving forward?

“The zone is going to be a part of what we do because of the (new fouling rules) and depending on personnel," Fennelly said. "It’s something that we can kind of rest some people during the game and avoid some foul trouble. Right now we’re not very deep at point guard so we’ve got to be careful.”  

Do the new timing rules make much of a difference?

As Coach Fennelly mentioned when talking about zone, there new rules in women’s college basketball are going to cause some coaches to rethink things.

The game has moved to four 10-minute quarters, rather than the old two halves format like in men’s hoops, and with that the foul bonus has been reduced to five in each quarter.

The changes didn’t really make a difference on Tuesday, but they definitely will before long. It will be interesting to see how coaches take advantage of the new rules and if any struggle because of them.

Only time will tell and I have just one more thought.

It’s freaking basketball season. 

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.