“During the bad times, it’s important to remember the good times.”
I couldn’t tell you who said that, and the closest thing I would have to it is Florida Georgia Line’s ever-popular song, “Here’s to the good times,” that plays on my speaker every now and then.
My point is, I’m young. I don’t have the first-hand knowledge of some events that a grizzled veteran like Rob Gray does.
During this whole shutdown period surrounding the COVID-19 virus, myself, as well as the other talented folks at Cyclone Fanatic, will be doing some unique things surrounding Iowa State sports.
I’m pleased to say my first ‘project’ will be a look back to a legendary Iowa State women’s basketball team.
Now, I was 10 during a majority of the ’08-’09 season, and I have a good memory of the Sweet 16 win over Michigan State, but the rest of the year is kind of a blur.
Below is my introduction to the series – a look at the regular season.
One of the most glaring things about this team, right off the bat, is the lack of a superstar scorer on the squad.
Bear with me. Not one player on the roster averaged more than 12 points per game. Not one player recorded more than six rebounds per 40 minutes.
This Iowa State team – as opposed to this past season that saw Ashley Joens go for 20-10 each game, never mind Bridget Carleton’s season the year before – was incredibly balanced.
Heather Ezell led the trio of guards in scoring, averaging 11.7 points per game next to junior Alison Lacey and sophomore Kelsey Bolte.
All three were 1,000-point scorers during their careers at Iowa State.
Seniors Nicky Wieben and Amanda Nisleit anchored the post play, each averaging over five rebounds per game while shooting 43.5% and 50% from the field, respectively.
The team got off to a hot start to the year, blowing out Northern Iowa behind 17 points – all coming in the first half – from Bolte, and improved to 4-0 later after beating Prairie View A&M in its early-season tournament.
Although, in its next three games, Iowa State would be run out of the gym by a highly ranked Stanford team and on the road at Iowa.
“We obviously struggled on both sides of the floor,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said after the game, per Cyclones.com. “You can’t put a great free-throw shooting team on the line and we did 24 times.”
The team left Iowa City with a 5-2 mark and a lot to clean up.
In vintage-Fennelly style, they did just that.
Ezell hit her 1,000-point scoring mark in the team’s next game against Drake, a 65-52 win in which it shot 62.2% from the field.
Three days later, the Cyclones tied the school record for 3-pointers made in a game with 18 against Detroit Mercy in another victory.
The momentum would carry Iowa State to an eight-game win streak that included victories at Hilton against No. 20 Vanderbilt and in the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State.
Iowa State entered the rankings for the second time that season, taking the No. 20 spot ahead of a tough week.
Facing No. 5 Baylor and No. 17 Kansas State on the road, the team did all it could to battle against the competition but ultimately dropped both games to fall to 13-4 (1-2 Big 12).
This team, whether others knew it or not, was in the midst of hitting its stride, though.
Not only did Fennelly and co. win its next five games in the Big 12, they held each opponent to 50 points or less. They improved to 18-4 (6-2 Big 12) and rose to No. 16 in the AP Top 25.
Iowa State was again de-railed during a tough week, though, losing to No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 13 Texas by single digits.
Despite the losses against big teams, the Cyclones wouldn’t waiver. The team had proven it could play and compete with highly ranked teams. They just hadn’t yet slammed the door.
Another run came for the twister sisters that saw them winning five of their last six games and finishing the year as the No. 3 seed in the conference (23-7, 11-5 Big 12).
The Big 12 Tournament
The third-place seeding met Iowa State would be rewarded with a first-round bye before playing the winner of the 6-11 game in the quarterfinals.
Thanks to an incredibly deep Big 12 that season, it meant the No. 18 Cyclones would face No. 23 Texas in their first game in Oklahoma City.
They’d have to do it, however, without Ezell. The senior was out with a hand injury and listed as day-to-day.
The game featured 17 lead changes and the Cyclones never trailed by more than three points.
Lacey finished with a 5-6 mark overall from downtown and hit some big shots down the stretch.
When Texas took its biggest lead with five minutes remaining, up 48-45, Lacey followed a Denae Stuckey 3-pointer to help the Cyclones knot things up at 50.
The two teams battled at the charity stripe to round out the game, something this team was incredibly skilled at, to give Iowa State a trip to the semifinals.
Waiting on the other side? No. 2 seed (and No. 5 nationally) Baylor.
Iowa State would get Ezell back for this one, and Texas A&M upset Oklahoma on the other side of the bracket to punch its own ticket to the finals.
The Cyclones, who beat Texas A&M by 17 in the regular season, were primed for success if they could find a way around the Lady Bears.
Like how most games go against the squad out of Waco, though, Iowa State got in a bit of a hole, trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half.
That would quickly change after the Cyclones went on a 15-4 run that included a Nisleit 3-pointer to give the team its first lead of the night up 47-46.
Baylor would go on an ensuing 8-0 run shortly after, but Lacey was determined to keep the Cyclones in the game, scoring five points in a row.
Ironically, the game came down to free throws and Iowa State was just out-shot by Baylor in the final minutes.
Baylor went on to win, and the Cyclones run in Oklahoma City had come to an end.
Although, this team had another run in it, and it would start in Bowling Green, Kentucky.