116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State guard Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw set her feet, squared her shoulders and let the shot fly.
No, she didn’t call bank. And no, the play wasn’t designed to flow through her. But with mere seconds remaining and the ninth-ranked Cyclones trailing No. 25 Kansas State, 70-69, Tuesday night in Manhattan, Kan., Espenmiller-McGraw was her team’s last hope.
“It went in, thankfully,” the former Southeast Polk star said on the Cyclone Radio Network after the eventual 73-70 triumph.
That’s been the case all season for ISU (15-1, 4-0 Big 12), whether designed or not. The Cyclones enter Saturday’s 1 p.m. game at Oklahoma State alone atop the Big 12 standings.
So what’s been the key ingredient in ISU’s best start to conference play since the 2004-05 season? A collectively short memory span, apparently.
“That’s the learning curve that every team goes through,” Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly said Monday. “(Soon) we’re on to the second half of the season and it goes really, really quickly once the games come. I think our players have a great understanding of that.”
Fennelly said coaches always chase the elusive “perfect game” even though it never comes. But it’s that never-satisfied approach to the game in good times and bad that has allowed his team to execute well enough to win eight straight games and remain unbeaten in league play.
“I think when things are going well you’ve got to work harder,” Fennelly said. “You’ve got to do more.”
Fennelly’s Cyclones have fully adopted that dogged approach to the grind of the season. Good times don’t last forever. Adversity always emerges. It’s not about if something bad will happen, it’s when — and how his team responds.
“When it’s going well, how do I keep it there?” Fennelly said. “And then when it goes the other way, at least you have habits of, ‘Oh, OK, I know what we need to do to be successful.’
“I know our kids will do what they can. Our time’s coming. We’re gonna lose games. Those things are gonna happen, too, but overall I think they have a great understanding of why they’ve been successful and what can still be done moving forward.”
Ashley Joens, of course, leads the way. The senior and former Iowa City High standout scored 27 points Tuesday to become the third player in ISU history to notch 2,000 or more in a career. But whether or not the Cyclones’ remarkable run through the first half of the season continues through the back end hinges on contributions from multiple players such as Espenmiller-McGraw, post player Morgan Kane, and sophomore guards Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski.
Sometimes that’s via a defensive stop. Sometimes, it’s via an unplanned, but well-placed bank shot.
“So far, so good,” Fennelly said.