Women's Basketball

ISU’s Audi Crooks sets lofty goals for herself and seeks to keep delivering Wednesday against UNI

Iowa State Cyclones center Audi Crooks (55) looks for a shot around Troy Trojans forward Ja’Mia Hollings (11) and guard Shaniah Nunn (23) during the third quarter of a NCAA women’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

 AMESAudi Crooks smiled as she considered the question. 

It centered on how the standout Iowa State freshman could improve her already well-developed game — and as expected, it conjured up a bold response. 

“My field goal percentage, I want to keep that high,” said the 6-3 Crooks, who has drained 67 percent of her shots in advance of Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. intrastate matchup with Northern Iowa at Hilton Coliseum. “Maybe get it even higher — 70 or above.” 

The reigning Big 12 freshman of the week already ranks third in the conference in field goal percentage for the Cyclones (6-4), who seek their fourth straight win in the series against the Panthers (1-7). Crooks’ strong interior presence has helped ISU guards enjoy plenty of open looks from 3-point range, where they’re shooting 36.8 percent, which ranks fifth in the Big 12. Crooks has even knocked down two of her three shots from beyond the arc, so she’s capable of scoring from all over the floor. She’s not supposed to make a habit of it, however.

 “Now she thinks she’s a 3-point shooter, so we’ll have to have that discussion, probably,” Cyclone head coach Bill Fennelly joked after his team’s 105-68 win over Troy. “She’s a really hard kid to guard.” 

Fennelly expects UNI to be difficult to contain, as well. The injury-plagued Panthers have lost seven straight games, but those setbacks have come against teams with a combined record of 61-14. So Fennelly expects a close game — and his team’s past three wins in the series have come by two possessions or fewer. 

“The records don’t matter,” Fennelly said. “Their season could turn around quickly and they can be in a much better spot if they can come in here and play well and win tomorrow. So we know how these (in-state) games go. It’s always the same.” 

ISU’s freshmen-laden team will look different for the second consecutive game as senior All-Big 12 point guard Emily Ryan continues to ease her way back into the lineup after missing the first eight games with a lower leg injury. Ryan scored five points and grabbed four rebounds in nine minutes on Sunday and will remain on “a pitch count” for the foreseeable future as she rebuilds her trademark stamina.

“It’s been a hard stretch for her,” Fennelly said. “Obviously, she loves to play, loves to compete, and so far — I think to her credit and the medical team’s credit, they’ve done the things they’ve needed to do to get her back in a safe way (and) in a way that kind of fits the return to play protocol that they use.” 

Crooks said Ryan’s reintegration into the rotation will help her and fellow freshmen such as Addy Brown, Arianna Jackson and Jalynn Bristow continue to blossom into their respective roles with the Cyclones. 

“We’re young,” Crooks said. “We make a lot of dumb mistakes sometimes, so she just helps smooth things over.” Ryan’s return also fully rounds out a talented, if youthful, ISU team that’s coming off its first 100-point game in two years.  “It was nice to finally be able to put that out there and allow people to see the kind of machine that we can be when we are all cohesively on the same page,” Crooks said.