Women's Basketball

Iowa State women seek to end three-game skid tonight against Oklahoma State at Hilton

Kansas freshman guard S’Mya Nichols (12) fights for possession against Iowa State senior guard Hannah Belanger (13) in the second half of the game Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, inside Allen Fieldhouse. © Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES — Iowa State’s five freshmen have coined a nickname for graduate transfer guard Hannah Belanger.

 They call the sharpshooting senior “granny” — and initially she wasn’t sure how she felt about the age-related monicker.

 “At first it made me feel old, but now I know it’s kind of a term of endearment,” said Belanger, who seeks to help the Cyclones (12-7, 6-3 Big 12) snap a three-game skid at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Oklahoma State (11-9, 4-5) at Hilton Coliseum. “So I take it on.”

 ISU will be taking in its first home game since beating No. 13 Baylor, 66-63, on Jan. 13. The Cyclones’ scheduled home date with TCU on Jan. 20 became a win by forfeit, as the Horned Frogs struggled with a spate of injuries, so enjoying the Hilton crowd’s loud support against the Cowgirls could serve as a salve of sorts.

 “Playing in front of our own fans, our own crowd, just feeling that energy really helps 10 times more when we really need it,” freshman guard Arianna Jackson said. “I just think of the Baylor game and the West Virginia game that we played here — those are moments when we really needed our fans to come through and they did. Just moments like those help us get through the tough games.”

 Take the three straight losses at Texas Tech, Kansas and West Virginia. ISU maintained legitimate hopes of winning all three well into the fourth quarter, but simply didn’t make enough plays to avoid suffering those single-digit setbacks.

 “The way they’ve handled things, the way they’ve competed — all nine (conference) games we played as hard as we could play,” Cyclone head coach Bill Fennelly said of his team. “We have not always played well, but we’ve played really hard. So I really don’t have any complaints about where we are.”

 That would be tied for fourth in the Big 12 standings — a position few would have considered possible given ISU’s youth.

 “If you would have said, ‘All right, it’s Christmas day, predict your record after the first nine,’” Fennelly said. “If you would have said 6-3, I think most people would have been like, ‘That’s pretty damn good.’ Now, after you’re (6-0), people don’t think that 6-3 is very good. I get that. There’s recency bias there.”

 ISU can begin rewriting that narrative by completing a sweep of Oklahoma State on Wednesday. And the Cyclones’ body of work has been good enough to make them a projected No. 10 seed for the NCAA Tournament according to Charlie Creme of ESPN’s latest women’s basketball bracketology. A lot can happen between now and Selection Sunday on March 17, but ISU’s precisely where “granny” wanted it to be. Belanger didn’t transfer from Division II Truman State to pad her stats or achieve personal accolades. She yearned to play in the Division I version of March Madness — and the Cyclones remain fully capable of helping her fulfill that dream.

 “I’ve had individual success at Truman,” the two-time Division II All-American said. “I really didn’t want that going into my last year. I wanted to have that team success.”