Iowa State Cyclones guard Emily Ryan (11) drives with the ball around Northern Iowa Panthers guard Kayba Laube (24)during the first quarter of a NCAA women’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – Iowa State turned the ball over on its first two possessions of Wednesday’s 87-70 win against UNI. Getting into a rhythm is proving tough for the Cyclones.
And despite trailing 10-2 early in the first quarter, the Cyclones responded with an edge.
“(I’m) so proud of our team and proud of the way we competed against a really good team,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Kelsey Jones was the best player in the game, besides Maya McDermott, who we could not guard. And I thought Isnelle Natabou was incredible. It’s nice to see those two contribute at a level that we really needed… and Emily Ryan was Emily Ryan.”
McDermott led the Panthers and earned a career-high 30 points, but it ultimately delayed what turned into an sizeable deficit for her team. Iowa State, meanwhile, looked as if it was getting more comfortable as the game went on, even when behind.
Kelsey Joens finished with 16 points, going 6-8 from the field and 3-4 from the 3-point line. One of her five rebounds played a momentous role in Iowa State’s success because of how unlikely it was that she could secure it – the crowd took notice.
The post players showed up as well, with Isnelle Natabou recording an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double and a 16-point game from Audi Crooks.
Iowa State led by 8 points at halftime, but might as well have had the momentum of leading by double the amount. Ryan played a big part in that.
“I don’t know how the game would have gone, but you can make a case if (Ryan) doesn’t play, we don’t win,” Fennelly said. “I don’t know that you’d be wrong. Those were a pretty impressive 15 minutes, in a lot of ways, and it’s what we talked about, after the last game… She just knows what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and lets the other players play.”
The returning point guard played 16 minutes in the game, which was a substantial increase from her first game back on Sunday against Troy – that was planned. Fennelly said Iowa State intended to use her anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.
But Ryan’s production increased to scale. The senior went 5-6 from the field to score 11 points, two of which came on breakaway-scoring steals, and added four assists and two boards. At one point, she went on a 5-0 run herself, hitting a three before converting after one of the steals.
Iowa State continued to cushion its way with plays from all over, as six players finished in double figures.
Addy Brown recorded her fifth straight double-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, and somehow did it quietly.
The Cyclones have plenty of untapped potential on the roster, being a team playing five freshmen in its rotation, and its become more apparent in each of its last four games.
“Yeah, I think probably there’s two things, number one, not to bore you, but Emily Ryan has something to that,” Fennelly said. “I think secondly, like all of us, you know – every day we learn, we get better. We understand stats don’t lie, video doesn’t lie, and we have a team that embraces the coaching staff and understands what we’re asking them.”
Now, it will add Ryan to the mix and a winter break to heal up before conference play roars to a start.
Every coach talks about (how) we all have (things) talking about culture and embracing the process and all those things are really cool, but I think for us, I believe our kids have done that,” Fennelly said. “They understand that they need to do things in a unique and better way. When we’ve had challenges they’ve responded. And, I think because we do have some balance, sometimes it’s not your night, (and instead) it’s someone else’s night. I think you saw that tonight and (tonight) was a great example of that.”