After a season that ended with a rare miss on making the NCAA Tournament, a number of new faces are gearing up to come together and play a regular season game at Hilton Coliseum for the first time on Friday.
The Iowa State women’s basketball team will open the season with a matchup with Niagara (0-1) in the opening round of the Women’s Preseason NIT tournament.
The tournament features 16 squads – including two ranked teams that are on the other side of the bracket in No. 19 Marquette and No. 25 Miami – facing off in a single elimination tournament.
So long as Iowa State keeps advancing, the championship game of the bracket will be played at Hilton Coliseum on November 18.
The feel around the program is that the Cyclones are just excited to get the season going and play some meaningful games.
“The biggest thing is we’re just looking forward to playing. The guys opened up last night,” Bill Fennelly said on Wednesday. “You’re kind of waiting your turn. They’re tired of practicing. The exhibition games are fun, but now it’s time for [the] real [stuff].”
As far as the starting lineup goes, Fennelly said that the starters will remain the same. That means Madison Wise and Meredith Burkhall will begin the game at the four and five spots. Joining them in the backcourt is Wooden Award watch-lister Bridget Carleton, freshman Ashley Joens, and Tennessee transfer Alexa Middleton.
Middleton, however, isn’t completely healthy. The quarterback of the Cyclones offense will be held to 20 or so minutes due to a leg injury she is battling.
The first two players we’ve seen check into games after that starting five, at least in exhibition games, have been Adriana Camber and Inés Nezerwa.
Fennelly has spoken highly of both players and said either of them could be starting and really deserved to start, not to take away from the current five.
Nezerwa made one of the more impactful performances during the exhibition games, though. Using her tall build, the senior out of Bujumbura, Burundi earned multiple steals and made her presence felt during the Cyclones’ use of the three-quarter court press.
Though, she wants to improve her performance.
“That’s the spot that believe I can play,” Nezerwa said. “I can do much better for this team and finish [better too]. I’m looking forward to that.”
The larger part of that for Nezerwa is finishing near the rim. In the two exhibition games, she finished 7-22 from the field.
Fennelly has challenged her to improve and has also said that he knows she can shoot better and does so in practice.
“I believe in my game,” Nezerwa said. “I have the best teammates that push me every day. I’m ready.”
Iowa State and Niagara will tip off on Friday at Noon CT with the game being televised on Cyclones.tv.
This game also serves as a field trip for a number of area elementary schools. With the noon tip-off, a number of schools around the area will bus students up for the game to see the Cyclones play live on a Friday.
“It’s kind of an initiative you see a lot in women’s basketball now,” Fennelly said. “The administration agreed to do it, and we like to roll with a Friday at noon game.”
The kids game at Hilton doesn’t have an official name, but it’s been something the Cyclones have been putting on for a few seasons, and always makes for a unique atmosphere.
“There will be some energy in the building,” Fennelly said. “It’ll be loud. Hopefully they’re sort of paying attention, I know that’s an issue with my kids and my grandkids.”
Maybe the intrigue and anticipation of seeing these new Cyclone basketball faces will help the kids pay just a bit more attention to Friday’s game at Hilton.