Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State basketball teams will rely on youth in Sunday's 'challenge' games

Women host No. 1 South Carolina, then men take on DePaul

Iowa State guard Aubrey Joens (20) handles the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in Fort Worth, Te
Iowa State guard Aubrey Joens (20) handles the ball during an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

AMES — Both Iowa State basketball teams are playing “challenge” games Sunday on ESPNU.

The Iowa State men’s basketball team is playing DePaul in Hilton Coliseum at 5 p.m. in the Big 12-Big East Battle.

Before that, the 23rd-ranked ISU women’s basketball team is hosting No. 1 South Carolina at 11 a.m. in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

Both teams will need to trust and rely on their youth.

Women’s coach Bill Fennelly said four of his top six players are freshmen. Whether they’re making mistakes or not, he said he has to go with them. He can’t bench them just because they make a mistake.

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Fennelly said. “That’s the beauty of being a freshman. Every day is new and everything is new. They’re not scared of the moment at all and I’m excited to see them on this stage and see what the next step is for their college game. We’ll see how they handle it.”

Like all freshmen in winter sports, they had a severely shortened preseason, so they’re learning on the fly.

“What it could do is continue to build the journey that this team is on,” Fennelly said. “We didn’t have a preseason so every chance you get to improve and show you can compete with the best team is important.”

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Men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He has four freshmen that have played in every game, as well, but his four come off the bench.

Iowa State’s bench scored just four points on Wednesday’s game against South Dakota State.

The freshmen aren’t quite as far along as they would be in a normal season and Prohm is having to balance getting them time so they can progress and putting his team in the best position to win the game.

“I told our guys we’re going on a stretch of playing five NCAA tournament teams,” Prohm said. “There is no learning curve this season. It’s ‘go play.’ That’s what I have to be patient with them this season and continue to put them in positions where they can succeed.

“Yeah, we have to win games and I get that and there’s no question about it, but trying to develop your bench puts you in some tough situations because we didn’t have scrimmages or exhibitions or a couple tune-up games where you can get these freshmen up to speed. Instead, they’re learning on the fly.

“Right now, we’re worried about getting us better. That’s been our biggest focus.”

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