Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke attempts a shot against Iowa State’s Audi Crooks (55) and Kelsey Joens (23) during a basketball game at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Ames. © Lily Smith/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – Iowa State played its best game of the season on Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum, and had No. 4 Iowa backed against the wall in brief moments before ultimately dropping the Cy-Hawk matchup, 67-58.
There was a level of scrappiness — and consistency — that Iowa State hadn’t yet seen come to fruition. Amid the chaos and intensity behind the rivalry, this group of young Cyclones stepped up in more moments than many expected.
“I think what we learned was that they’re willing to prepare the way that you need to prepare to play in these kinds of games,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said, “And I think we learned that they are not going to back down from anyone at anytime. And I think they, what we learned were the things that we’re gonna have to work through.
Fennelly added: “I’m not going to moral victories. I’m pissed we lost, but I seriously — I love our team. I love what they’re about. And I love the way they did what they did tonight.”
Iowa State held Iowa’s star Caitlin Clark to a 12-for-31 shooting night from the field, but Clark still managed 35 points in the game, and scored each of her team’s 14 points in the third quarter.
Despite her numbers, the Cyclone defense never went away from its approach and rarely threw double teams at Clark that may have opened up a shot for somebody else. Arianna Jackson was tasked with that assignment for a majority of the game, and notably stepped up in her role on that side of the ball.
That was commonplace for Iowa State in this game.
No one in that locker room is taking a ‘close loss’ to the bank, but for Iowa State to succeed this season, it will have to take steps forward every time that it hits the floor.
It took a major step tonight in its first game where the stage got bigger and the lights brighter.
“I think the rivalry (aspect) helps,” Addy Brown said on what led to Iowa State playing its best game this year. “And just looking again at each game — what step can we take to continue to get better? That’s the challenge. Now, we can’t get complacent. We have a very good team coming up that we have to play and we’ve got to move on and be ready to go for them. (We’re focused on) just taking that next step each game and continuing to get better.”
Brown finished the game with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while playing 38 minutes in the game.
Audi Crooks complemented her efforts, collecting seven rebounds in the opening 10 minutes and dominating in the post to finish with a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double.
“I mean, I can sit here and lie and say this game is like any other game, but it’s not, everybody knows that,” Crooks said. “This is one that everybody looks forward to. However, I think that we are going to continue to approach each game the same way. We didn’t necessarily do anything extra for this game that had we haven’t done for past competitors.
Crooks added: “I think if we can just stay the course and continue to approach games like we approached this one, then we’ll be a good team.”
Iowa State will want some things back. It was 0-for-7 from 3-point range in the second half and only shot two from distance in the third quarter.
It’s offense came up empty in the minutes following the final media timeout of the game that came while Iowa State held a one-point lead.
It performed and played the game it needed to for 35 minutes, and that was plenty more than it had in its first seven.
“I’m a next 40 minute guy, but let’s be honest, 90 percent of the people in this room aren’t here for what — any other game,” Fennelly said in his postgame press conference. “Our kids understand what the game was about. I mean, come on, I’m not gonna say this was just another game. It’s a big game in the state, we all know it, and I think that leads into your preparation. But now the challenge is to keep doing it. And that’s the thing about basketball is we got to do it quick. And finals next week.”
The Cyclones face with North Dakota State on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum.
“So I think the other part of that is, I hope they see that the proper level of preparation led to an opportunity to play against one of the best teams in the country, and play them straight-up, toe-to-toe, to the bitter end,” Fennelly said. “So hopefully, that’s a learning lesson for them, and I think it will be.”