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Denae Fritz brings ‘swagger’ to Iowa State women’s basketball
No. 12 Cyclones visit Kansas State on Wednesday
AMES — Call it stoic swagger.
Iowa State’s Denae Fritz plays basketball with intensity and urgency; as if she’s on borrowed time, wedded to wringing the most out of every on-court opportunity, whether on the Big 12 stage or on the practice floor.
“The other night, the word swagger was brought up and that’s never associated with our team, but it is with Denae,” said veteran women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly, whose 12th-ranked Cyclones (15-4, 7-2) face Kansas State (13-9, 2-7) at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN+) in Manhattan, Kan. “And our team needs that. She’s playing with a lot more confidence. She knows she’s gonna play. She knows she’s gonna play a lot of minutes.
“The trust level, again, is big at this level and she’s been asked to guard really good players and she’s accepted it. The moment has not been too big for her.”
That’s because every second on the court feels like a blessing. Fritz, a former Miss Basketball in Tennessee, missed most of last season with a foot injury. She didn’t play basketball at all for nearly a year. Now she’s asked to be one of ISU’s most stringent defenders — and trusted to develop into one of the Cyclones’ more productive scorers, as well.
“Her defense this year has been unreal,” ISU junior point guard Emily Ryan said. “I think that’s something that goes under the radar for a lot of the games she’s played, but she’s taken every assignment that she’s been given and just done really well in it. She’s just so good in her role.”
Take the Cyclones’ first meeting with the Wildcats — a 67-56 win at Hilton Coliseum. Fritz held the Big 12’s second-leading scorer, Gabby Gregory, to her second-lowest output of the season (nine points) and will likely be tasked with slowing down the Oklahoma transfer again as ISU seeks the season sweep.
Fritz also held the Sooners’ Ana Llanusa in check Sunday in an 86-78 win, so shining as one of the Cyclones’ most ardent defenders has become part of the 5-foot-11 guard’s ongoing tasks.
“It’s kind of just showed myself that I’m capable of guarding a really good player night in and night out, at least as much as I can,” Fritz said. “Then obviously that helps our offense, because if we get stops on defense that’s going to allow us (to have) a really good offensive possession as well.”
Sunday against the Sooners, Fritz matched a career high set against Kansas State with 14 points. Her two 3-pointers kept Oklahoma from adding to big early leads. And her efficient production on 5-for-10 shooting proved she can be a steady all-around contributor for a team still adjusting to life without 6-6 forward Stephanie Soares, who underwent successful knee surgery recently.
“When Steph got hurt, I think (Fritz is) smart enough to look around and go, ‘OK, I’ve got to play a little different, and it’s happened on both ends of the floor,” Fennelly said.
And in practice. Fennelly said Fritz is one of his team’s biggest talkers. She lets the men on the Cyclones’ scout team know it when she lights them up. So while her face doesn’t often show emotion, her words and actions do.
“I like to talk a little bit, I won’t lie,” Fritz said. “I think everyone kind of knows that now.”