Women's Basketball

WBB: Cyclones ready to tip-off NCAA Tournament against UT-Arlington

AMES — The last time Iowa State hosted the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, back in 2018, the Cyclones were upset on their home floor by Missouri State in the Round of 32.

A year later, the tournament was canceled due to a pandemic.

During last season’s bubble tournament in San Antonio, Bill Fennelly’s team suffered a last-minute loss to Texas A&M, stopping the program short of its first Sweet 16 since 2010.

Fennelly put signs all over the practice facility. They made shirts.

“Remember the Alamo.”

“I got tired of looking at it, to be honest with you,” Fennelly said. “It was there all year. I could look out my window and see it for I don’t know how many months. It was just a reminder during the summer, there’s no one around. It’s just us. It’s not any fun. We started June 13th, and you’re sitting there going all this work that we’re going to put in to hopefully be here today.”

Now, the Cyclones are here, fresh off one of the best regular seasons in program history. At 26-6 in 32 games and 14-4 in Big 12 play, Iowa State has done everything it could with the schedule in front of it.

Oh, and by the way, the next win ties the school record (27 wins, ’99-’00, ’01-’02, ’08-’09). A trip to the Sweet 16 would set a new mark.

You aren’t going to catch a player nor coach on this team talking about that, though. They’re focused on the next 40 minutes – that being the Round of 64 game against UT Arlington on Friday night.

“Just knowing that you have to play till the very end and every little thing in the game matters,” second-team All-American Ashley Joens said. “You just have to go out and play as hard as you can and really buy into the scouting report.”

The Mavericks earned a Sun Belt championship behind second-year coach Shereka Wright and standout player Starr Jacobs. Jacobs averages 21.1 points per game for her team, the only player in the category scoring more than 13 points per game.

“Jacobs is a handful,” Fennelly said. “(She’s) the kind of post player we see in our league. She can score it. I think she averages 21 points a game, shoots a ton of free throws.”

As he noted, that’s something his team has seen this year before.

They are not carbon copies but a team with a dynamic, volume scorer in the post draws a lot of similarities to teams like Ayoka Lee and Kansas State.

In the past, they’ve almost allowed another team’s best scorer to get their points. Don’t expect them to deviate much from that strategy, either.

“We’re not going to do a lot of stuff different,” Fennelly said. “I think that sometimes as a coach, myself, you overthink things. There’s a reason we’re here and a reason we’re 26-6. Let’s not get too crazy here. But we’ve got to be smart. I think there’s a lot of things that are different.

“The number one thing you look at is you’ve got to keep people off the free-throw line, especially a kid like Jacobs. We’ve done an amazing job over the years of not being a team that fouls people, and those are things that you have to really believe in and practice and focus on.”

Iowa State will get things started on Friday night (9 p.m. on ESPNU), with the same mentality that earned it a No. 3 seed.

And hopefully, just for a couple more days, it will remember the Alamo.

“When you get into the postseason and really — again, it goes back to our thing,” Fennelly said. “Embrace who you are and don’t apologize for what you’re not. That’s what we’re going to try and do (Friday) night.”