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Women's Basketball

WBB: Intensity ramps up as Iowa State enters gauntlet stretch with Big 12 opener

Madison Wise

The Iowa State women’s basketball team has played two non-conference games so far this year, splitting the pair of games to kick off the season.

Four of the team’s normal, rotation players are freshmen, and haven’t gotten adjusted yet to the demands of college basketball.

On Wednesday, the intensity ramps up, maybe quicker than it ever has before, for an Iowa State squad with a lot of work still left to do as they travel to TCU for an early open to Big 12 play (6:30 p.m. on ESPN+).

“I think (we need to) just get the freshmen experience. Especially, at the level of play that we’re going to see get progressively better, with a Big 12 game lingering,” Associate Head Coach Jodi Steyer said. “Just the level of intensity, the strength of the game, the speed in the game, that’s the type of things (we’re looking at this week).”

TCU swept the Cyclones a season ago in a pair of close games and finished second in the Big 12 standings.

The Horned Frogs were really good last year and even though they are losing four of their starting five players from that team, this should provide a formidable test for Iowa State.

It comes in a season strange enough to see conference play start with the third game of the year.

It comes dressed as the start of a three-game stretch that includes No. 1 South Carolina and a rivalry game against Iowa in the next week.

It comes when coach Bill Fennelly is away from the team and quarantining for two weeks due to contact tracing of a COVID-19 positive test rather than being able to help as much as he wants to.

“We’ve been talking about it. It’s a strange season and we have to adjust to that,” Steyer said. “Especially with (Coach Bill Fennelly) – that’s an example and we’ve been talking to him a lot. We’ve kind of been talking… the rest of the way, up until Christmas, we’ve got two days of practice and then a game. We’re trying to embrace the fact that at least we’re playing, but it’s strange.”

Now, Iowa State still has no clarification on whether or not Fennelly will be able to be on the bench when the top team in the nation comes into town on Sunday. His quarantine would be either at day 14 or one day after it, depending on when the coach started it and what days count.

At the very least, Fennelly will return ahead of next week’s game at Iowa to try and help his staff get the freshmen dialed in.

“Bill’s doing well,” Steyer said. “He’s doing well, but it’s driving him crazy to have to do everything from his basement in his home office. The sooner he can get back to the team will be better for him and everyone involved, but he’s feeling good.”

Lexi Donarski was the first of the four youngsters to eclipse the double-digit mark in scoring, hitting 13 points in Iowa State’s loss to South Dakota State.

If the Cyclones can get more out of Donarski and co., it’ll make this stretch a lot more positive.

“We have freshmen that we are confident in,” Steyer said. “We have upperclassmen that have been through it before, so we just have to rely on them to help them through. It’s a heck of a schedule, but like Coach Fennelly tells them, we’re happy to be playing.”

Another positive piece for the Cyclones to start off the season this year has been senior Madison Wise.

After sitting out for most of her junior year with migraine issues, Wise has started off the year hopping on the boards.

“She’s been giving us great effort on the boards,” Steyer said. “She’s playing some at the four, so she’s playing some bigger players. Defensively, she’s doing really well. I know she wanted to shoot better at South Dakota State, but it’s coming. I’ve always felt that with Madi. She gives us that reliability of somebody that has been around for a while and knows what’s going on.”

Wise only has eight points in two games this year, but has averaged 5.5 rebounds per game while playing 42 minutes across the first two matchups for the Cyclones.

Get Wise going from the 3-point line and there could be another weapon for Iowa State to utilize. Not to mention, that senior leadership could go a long way.

Especially in a Big 12 opener.

“We’ve really got to just focus on ourselves,” senior Kristin Scott said. “We have a really tough stretch coming up. We’ve got to move on and go forward.”

The Cyclones will try on Wednesday in Fort Worth.