Women's Basketball

WBB: Cyclones try to reach non-conference finish line

Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw

Iowa State has started off 2-0 in Big 12 Conference play. The Cyclones have played their rival. They have gotten past a game against the top ranked team in the nation.

The only thing standing between them and the first break players have had in months is a date with the Drake Bulldogs at Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday (6:00 p.m. ESPN+).

“We have a very tough game with Drake (Tuesday) and hopefully we have a little left in the tank to get to the finish line here before a well-deserved break,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “I’m really pleased with where we are right now. Hopefully, that will continue tomorrow night.”

The Cyclones have just one more data point to log before they dive head-first into the post-holiday Big 12 season.

That point will be hyper-focused on what Iowa State plays like on Tuesday. In other words, the Cyclones are trying to get themselves as right as possible before conference play starts.

“We have to worry about what we’re doing,” Fennelly said. “This is a team that is learning daily, playing the amount of freshmen that we do. It’s another good opportunity to play a good team and these in-state games are always competitive. It kind of has a conference game feel to it.”

This will lie in improving on some of the issues that the team has seen this season as well as continuing to improve on strongpoints.

For instance, the Cyclones turned the ball over just five times in their big win over Kansas State last week.

That’s down from the 15 and 18 turnovers they committed in the two in-state games they played on the schedule.

“The biggest thing for us is our attention to detail, defensively, and our ability to take care of the ball,” Fennelly said. “I think we have a lot of kids on this team that can score. I think the biggest stat in the Kansas State game was that we only had five turnovers and we scored 91 points.”

Although, the Cyclones have had their lapses.

Against Iowa, a 17-point lead evaporated in the fourth quarter when the team only tallied seven points in 10 minutes. A 22-point lead against TCU got down to 11 at one point.

They can’t take their feet off of the gas, especially against the Bulldogs.

“Finishing the game,” junior Ashley Joens said. “Usually, we have a quarter or a part (of the game) where we’re not doing so well. We have to keep playing, keep battling, and stay in the game. Drake’s not going to go away on Tuesday. They’re going to keep playing and we have to keep competing.”

It’s a part of getting better, something that Iowa State has seen from each of its freshman through the first eight games of the year, but especially from Emily Ryan.

The Claflin, Kansas native has made strides leading the team this season, so much so, that Fennelly compared her to Iowa State Football’s Brock Purdy.

“Trying to play point guard at this level as a true freshman is not an easy thing to do,” Fennelly said. “Our system is very complicated and (Ryan) has done a really good job. She’s taken care of the ball. She’s defending. I think eventually she will score the ball more.”

Ryan averaged 27.4 points per game in high school, so it’s not hard to believe that she will improve in that category as things progress even though her high mark this season has been just 8 points against NDSU.

Although, Ryan has been electric in the assist-to-turnover ratio stat, coming off of her 9ast-1TO game the last time out.

She’s averaging 2.32 assists per turnover – good for the sixth best mark in the Big 12 – and she’s also the conference’s leader in assists.

“The coaches have helped me learn the position and understand what we’re looking for and what needs to be done,” Ryan said.

The team got better on Friday night when it saw the surprise return, as well, of sophomore Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw.

Once thought that she could be out for the majority of the season, the Cyclones got some more depth in their lineup just eight games into the year thanks to an injury being less impactful.

“(Espenmiller-McGraw) adds a lot to our team,” Fennelly said. “There’s obviously depth, scoring. Now we get some experience at guard. Even though she’s only a sophomore, she’s been there and done that. I think you can tell what she adds.”

Iowa State will try to put it all together once more in the first portion of its schedule for the year against Drake. The overwhelming reward, though, will be the extended break they get that comes after.