116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Ashley and Aubrey Joens were out because of COVID-19 protocols. Their Iowa State team endured back-to-back blowout losses to Texas and Baylor. A once-ascendant season could have devolved into chaos, but the Cyclones wouldn’t let that happen five weeks ago when they faced their first wave of sustained adversity.
“That was a miserable week in a lot of ways,” said ISU head coach Bill Fennelly, whose ninth-ranked team plays Texas Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hilton Coliseum (ESPN+). “We played terrible. We just had a lot of things going on and I’m not gonna lie, I was worried about where we were gonna go.”
That concern quickly dissipated. The Cyclones (23-4, 12-3) emerged stronger after facing those obstacles. They’ve won six of seven games and one critical facet of their success hinges on not looking ahead — especially given that the regular-season rematch with the Bears looms Monday night. ISU and Baylor are tied atop the conference standings.
“Texas Tech is a really good team,” said Cyclones backup post player Beatriz Jordao, who is coming off her sixth double-digit scoring effort in conference play. “We know that and we’re getting ready for that. It comes (down to) thinking about our game and what we need to do.”
The Red Raiders (10-16, 3-12) boast wins over Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State this season — with the victories over the Longhorns and Sooners coming on the road.
“All I have to do is tell our team they beat Texas at Texas,” Fennelly said. “And that gets their attention, because we obviously haven’t played very well against Texas. But especially when you get to this point of the season, this group has handled it amazingly well. That’s the focus and that’s just the way we’re gonna go about it.”
Play for today, build for tomorrow. It’s an approach that’s worked for the Cyclones all season long. It’s also a compartmentalized game plan that works best when a team’s rippling with chemistry, which Fennelly said has been strong since early in the season.
“I think probably if I had to point to something it would be when we went to Florida (in late November),” Fennelly said. “We were together nonstop and you’d have to travel together. We played three games in three days. (Nyamer Diew) got hurt and there’s a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but I think that was the time. I’d kind of felt it before that, but I really felt it after that. Like, ‘OK, they get it. They understand it.’”
Translation: Nothing ever comes easy. Not in the Big 12. Not at Iowa State, which is well-positioned to win its first conference title since the turn of the 21st century due in large part to how it responded to that “miserable week” in late January when it had to play without all-time leading scorer Ashley Joens, and pick up the pieces after a pair of humbling losses.
“It was a tough week, for sure,” said the Cyclones’ record-setting point guard, Emily Ryan. “Just a lot of stuff going on, on and off the court, that we had to deal with, but just being able to get past that and understand that we’re gonna be stronger after it was important for us. I think it was an opportunity to learn and get better and I think that’s what we did. We’re just moving forward.”