Iowa State Cyclones’s center Isnelle Natabou (0) drives to the basket between Butler Bulldogs forward Sydney Jaynes (32) and guard Jordan Meulemans (23) during the first quarter at Hilton Coliseum on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – Iowa State women’s basketball plans to play five freshmen on the court regularly during the 2023-24 season, and did so in its season opening 67-55 win over Butler Monday at Hilton Coliseum.
The group of youngsters looked as expected for their age and experience. They saw stretches of high output scoring while there were other times when they allowed Butler to get back into the game after trailing by double digits.
“We just made some really silly mistakes – that (Butler) caused,” coach Bill Fennelly said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to give the other team a lot of credit… Our thing is just to make the pretty simple play – the one with no degree of difficulty.”
There will be more tough stretches this year. That’s just the case with the inexperience. It’s expected.
What Iowa State didn’t expect was to win the game by 27 points.
“I would have said that probably you guys were out too late last night,” Fennelly said of if he had been told in the morning that his team would win by that margin. “The more we watched video – they had a lot of good stuff. They’re really hard to guard… There’s no way I would have anticipated that.”
That feeling – being unsure of what will take place on a college basketball opening day – is becoming more and more of a regularity across the country.
Players are moving around, teams have brought in pieces, but have not seen those pieces in a live game setting that wasn’t an exhibition.
Iowa State had some of that feeling as well, and that’s where the 27-point victory will blow folks away.
Nyamer Diew led the game in scoring for Iowa State, earning her way to 19 points and nine rebounds.
She was one of four players who finished in double figures for the Cyclones, along with Isnelle Natabou, who looked all the part of a dominant post player throughout the game.
Addy Brown added 11 points, seven boards and five assists while Kelsey Joens tallied 13 points with eight rebounds and a team-high plus/minus of +34.
“I know everyone likes that plus/minus thing, I don’t really, but I’ve got three staff members that think it’s the analytical golden child,” Fennelly said. “I don’t know, but Kelsey was really good. She hadn’t practiced in four days, so we kind of rushed her back. Her foot was sore after (the exhibition game against Truman State), but she said she was good to go.
Fennelly was overtly impressed by freshman point guard Arianna Jackson.
“I really thought (the freshman group) all was good, but there was about a six-minute period in the third or fourth quarter where I thought (Jackson) was phenomenal,” Fennelly said. “And, I’ve been on her a lot – a lot – about what she has to do (to be successful in Ames). I thought the game changed in our favor during those six-to-eight minutes.”
Whether it by one point or by 27, the win gives Iowa State the 1-0 record to start the season it set out to reach Monday, and it should ease the minds of anyone who thought disaster may strike.
It doesn’t get any easier from here, but this team will have some time to soak in game 1.
“Right now, you celebrate it, but you be realistic,” Fennelly said. “It’s probably a good thing we don’t play until Sunday.
“That will give them some time to read the press clippings – Coach Schaben calls it ‘rat poison.’ Everyone will be telling them how great the were today,” Fennelly joked. “But no, you want to celebrate it. Being 1-0 is a good thing.”
Iowa State will try for a 2-0 start in a road contest in Des Moines against Drake on Sunday, November 12 (2:00 p.m. ESPN+).