AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team is scheduled to open its season Thursday night and the team could see one of its best players return to the floor.
After Kristin Scott tweaked her back late in the 2018-19 season and re-aggravated the injury over the summer, Iowa State was forced to keep her off the court for their exhibition game a week ago.
When the team faces Southern tonight at 6 o’clock (Cyclones.tv) at Hilton Coliseum, Scott might suit up.
“[Scott] practiced a little bit [Tuesday] for the first time,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “We’re going to see how she feels.”
Scott had another treatment on Wednesday before practice and the Cyclones are hoping to see her return to the court for the opener. The Minnesota native is entering her junior season and was the lone Cyclone picked to the preseason All-Big 12 team.
“She’s frustrated, obviously,” Fennelly said. “You’re coming off of a good year and have all of these preseason [accolades] going on. She wants to help her team and she knows how important she is, but it’s early and we’ve got to be smart about it.”
The Cyclones wouldn’t push Scott back into the heat of battle if she wasn’t ready to go, but it remains important for the team in case she is to play meaningful minutes on Sunday.
After Iowa State plays Southern on Thursday, and then will head south to Des Moines on Sunday for a date with the three-time defending Missouri Valley Conference champions, the Drake Bulldogs.
“The good news is, it’s going to shorten some things for her maybe this week, but I think after that she’ll be fine,” Fennelly said.
Following their game with Drake, the Cyclones have eight days off before facing Texas Southern at home on November 19.
If Scott does play, however, she will be on a minutes restriction, or a pitch count, as the avid baseball fan Fennelly said.
“That’s been discussed at length,” Fennelly said. “We definitely aren’t going to push it at all. We’re going to [stay] on the safe side. She really feels like she can play. We’ll let her go through practice [Wednesday] and if she feels good again, then I’m sure she’ll get a few minutes tomorrow.”
Fennelly will be starting his 25th season of coaching the Cyclones in Thursday’s game. He’s a perfect 24-0 in season openers and is expected to move to 25-0 after this week.
Although, Fennelly said it doesn’t feel any different than the start of most seasons.
“It really doesn’t,” Fennelly said. “Every year, it’s exciting. This is a fun time of year. You watch the guys’ game on TV, you’re checking basketball scores, and not just waiting for the next football game. I think if it does get old, boring, or mundane, you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Scott isn’t the only injury trouble the Cyclones are facing.
Sophomore Ashley Joens was rested for four days after the exhibition game because she tweaked her ankle. Not to mention, freshman Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw sat for eight preseason practices due to an illness.
Joens is expected to be alright and continue playing a big amount of minutes for the team, though Fennelly is preparing his group for the worst during practices.
“We’ve practiced everyone,” Fennelly said. “I don’t know if there’s a team in the country that has this many kids getting quality practice reps, which could be good or bad depending on how you look at it.”
Because of the troubles, the team hasn’t had all of their players available for the same practice, yet. There are still a lot of questions as to what things are going to look like.
“We don’t have an identifying rotation, which could be shaky, but everyone’s getting a chance,” Fennelly said. “If [Joens] can’t practice, I tell the kids, ‘Well she’s in foul trouble, so what are we going to do?”
Along with it, the Cyclones are trying to identify what they will be doing with the point guard position, which is being played by committee at this moment.
Fennelly said on Wednesday that Rae Johnson will get the start, but expect to see more of Espenmiller-McGraw, Jade Thurmon, and Nia Washington on Thursday.
Johnson is getting the start for good reason, too.
“I think the last two days of practice that [Johnson] has had have been the best two days of practice she has had since she got here,” Fennelly said. “We’ve had extensive talks with her and a lot of those kids about needing someone to step into that role. I think she understands, as a junior.”
Johnson started last Thursday in the team’s exhibition game and played 17 minutes while shooting 0-2 from the 3-point line. She also recorded two rebounds and five assists.
“[Johnson] has a very high basketball IQ,” Fennelly said. “Her conditioning has got to improve. Her offensive efficiency has got to improve a little bit. Her shot has not been what I think [she] is capable of, but defensively and offensively she has an overall grasp of the system better than other kids, and that means a lot.”
Espenmiller-McGraw is expected to get a decent number of minutes as well after she recorded 15 points and a team-high 26 minutes a week ago. Fennelly said those minutes weren’t just a gift. She earned them.
“It was great [to see her play well a week ago],” sophomore Joens said. “Especially boosting her confidence, so she knows she can just go out and play like she did in high school.”
Also in the starting lineup will be senior Adriana Camber playing at the No. 4 spot.
Camber played limited minutes for the team last season, but was a phenomenal role model during the year according to Fennelly as well as her teammates.
“[Camber’s] a great leader. Just with last year and her not playing a whole lot, [to see her be able] to step up and come in and contribute [is great].
The Lund, Sweden native recorded six points and two boards in the exhibition, and is all the bit excited to put on the jersey and begin her final season in Ames.
“You know it’s real,” Camber said of her final season opener. “But, I think the exhibition was really good. There were some plays we made in the exhibition game where we really worked and played well together. We were moving the ball and finding some good passes. It’s something we’ll work on throughout the season, obviously to be at our best in March when it all matters. I think we’re definitely getting there and it will be fun to see [on Thursday] what we can do.”