Iowa State Cyclones guard Emily Ryan (11) drives to the basket around Oklahoma State Cowgirls guard Quincy Noble (0) and forward Praise Egharevba (24) during the third quarter in the Big-12 conference matchup at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — If she’s not passing the basketball, she’s dishing out advice. If she’s not scoring, she’s poring over details to make her team better. In short, Iowa State’s senior point guard Emily Ryan serves as a de facto coach as well as a player — and her valuable dual role could be key in helping the Cyclones shake off their recent slump.
“(She’s) helped everyone,” said ISU head coach Bill Fennelly, whose team has lost four of its past five games and faces Big 12-leading Oklahoma at 6 p.m. Sunday at Hilton Coliseum. “Her demeanor and what she’s doing is the same.”
Ryan’s skilled and steady hands must be active, as usual, if the Cyclones (13-8, 7-4) hope to upend the 24th-ranked Sooners (16-6, 8-1). Oklahoma ranks third nationally in assists per game at 20.2 and eight players — led by senior forward Skylar Vann — average between five and 16 points per game.
“They are a juggernaut,” said Ryan, who nearly recorded a triple-double in ISU’s most recent win over Oklahoma State. “They’re getting shots up really quick, so it’s a big challenge; a different style of play than we’ve seen the past few games. It’s gonna be fast-paced, which will be a lot of fun and I’m excited for it.”
Ryan and fellow program veteran Nyamer Diew have enjoyed helping the Cyclones’ five freshmen navigate through their first season of Division I basketball. Fennelly often talks about a “freshman wall” young players can hit as the season winds down — and it’s up to Ryan and Diew to help the freshmen scale it.
“We’ve been in their shoes before, so it’s kind of like looking back to when I was a freshman,” Ryan said. “What was really helpful from the senior that I had and what were things I maybe wanted a little bit more of? So I’m just trying to put myself in their shoes and try to help them as much as possible. They’re such a fun group to be around because they just want to get better every day. They want to get pushed every day so that’s just something that we embrace.”
The same can be said about the Big 12 grind. Losses can pile up as quickly as wins. And a team can be riding high in one moment and reeling the next. Case in point: The Cyclones, who won six straight conference games before losing four of the past five.
“Hey, not every day you’re gonna get an ‘A’ on the test,” Fennelly said. “But it doesn’t mean you quit working on it. So you just talk a lot about that and, I think, the other thing is you work really hard to manage how you practice and how you prepare, and really make them understand what’s ahead.”
Ryan helps ensure those lessons aren’t lost in translation. ISU — which stands alone in fifth in the Big 12 standings — will face three ranked teams in rapid succession. Two of those games will be at home, giving the Cyclones a prime opportunity to get back on track.
“We’re going to come out hungry and ready to go (on Saturday),” Ryan said.