AMES — There isn’t any snow on the ground on campus this week but Christmas is still right around the corner.
The Iowa State women’s basketball will take to the court at Hilton Coliseum for the final time before a much-deserved holiday break on Wednesday when they take on Prairie View A&M at 6:30 pm. on Cyclones.tv.
“Every coach in the country right now is nervous about, ‘Are your players still here?’” head coach Bill Fennelly said. “This team needs a break and deserves a break.”
That’s because of the brutal non-conference schedule the Cyclones have played so far. The Cyclones kicked off the year with wins over the RPI’s 43rd and 23rd best teams in Auburn and Miami, respectively.
That transitioned into games against the RPI’s No. 16 South Dakota Coyotes and currently No. 52 Arkansas Razorbacks.
Throw in that the in-state rivals in Drake and Iowa both spent time in the top 25 and are slated at 8th and 17th in the RPI and it’s easy to see what Fennelly is talking about.
“We knew coming into this year that our non-conference schedule was going to one of the more difficult [schedules] we’ve had here in a long, long time,” Fennelly said earlier in the year.
As of Sunday, when Arkansas was still in the top 50 in the RPI, Iowa State was the only school in the nation to play six schools from the ranking system’s top 50 teams.
The hot start to the year has risen this team all the way to No. 5 in the RPI as it rounds the corner into conference play.
“To go win the WNIT like we did, to beat North Dakota [after a gut-wrenching loss], to beat Drake on [Sunday], and to see that we are doing the things that we should do [is great].
That was one of the things Fennelly wanted to see at the start of the year. Taking care of business at home in front of Iowa State fans. The Cyclones’ recent win over Drake gave the team a seventh home win his season, matching the mark they set during all of last year.
The team is two wins away from finishing the non-conference home slate with a 9-0 mark.
“It’d be one of the biggest things that we could have accomplished preseason,” Fennelly said.
Last season, Iowa State’s home mark sat at a very uncharacteristic 7-8. It was the first time under Fennelly that an Iowa State team had finished under .500 at home, ever. That’s 21 Iowa State teams that all had winning records in the coliseum.
“We need to be a team that understands what it means to play here again,” Fennelly said. “It’s important, and not just because of the home court advantage, [but because] of the people that come here and spend their money and spend their time leave here feeling like, ‘Hey, that’s my team.’”
Iowa State has certainly performed well over the first part of the schedule this year, and there could already be a lot to look back on over Christmas break.
Fennelly isn’t ready to start his break yet.
“We still have one more thing we need to take care of Wednesday night.”