AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team was in the middle of practice when director of basketball operations Josh Carper told head coach Bill Fennelly there was a problem.
“Usually when Carper says there’s a problem that’s a bad thing because he doesn’t let problems get to me, the covers for me,” Fennelly said.
Carper told Fennelly that ESPN leaked the NCAA Tournament bracket, hours ahead of Monday’s scheduled 6 p.m. selection show. Fennelly made the decision to tell his team.
“I wanted them to hear from us,” Fennelly said. “I feel bad and it’s incredibly negligent on someone’s part that this would happen. I feel bad for the programs that didn’t get to experience this opportunity like they should.”
While the players celebrated and cheered that they were a No. 3 seed in the Chicago Region playing No. 14-seed New Mexico State in Ames at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, assistant coach Jodi Steyer got her computer.
“I turned to (assistant coach) Billy (Fennelly) and said, ‘Look what she’s doing,’” Fennelly said. “Then all the coaches huddled around her and immediately started trying to get an idea about New Mexico State.”
In the 10 minutes during the final moments of practice, Fennelly said he learned a bit about the Aggies.
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“They look athletic and the put a lot of pressure on you,” Fennelly said. “They have a lot of transfers — they have a player who transferred from Oklahoma State (Rodrea Echols) and one that transferred from Minnesota (Stabresa McDaniel). It looks like they want to pressure you and get up into you a little bit. They don’t have a lot of size, but they want to play fast and be aggressive.”
During those 10 minutes, his sole focus was on New Mexico State.
“I told them, ‘I hope you practiced well because I didn’t see one play,’” Fennelly said. “(Point guard) Alexa (Middleton) said, ‘Coach, we didn’t turn it over once and we guarded everybody,’” Fennelly continued with a laugh.
No. 6-seed DePaul and No. 11-seed Missouri State play in the other first-round game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. The winners meet in the second round Monday.
Iowa State has made the NCAA Tournament 11 of the last 13 seasons. The No. 3-seed is the highest Iowa State has earned since it was a 3-seed in 2002.
But the Cyclones failed to make the NCAA Tournament last season after going 14-17. This season, they improved to 25-8 overall.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” Fennelly said. “If you think about where we were last year, I don’t know that there is a team in the country that accomplished what this group did. To go from where we were, to a No. 3-seed,I’m very proud. The exciting part is we get to play in the biggest event of the year and our seniors got a senior night and now they get to play at home again.”
Iowa State was projected as a No. 4-seed and the top four seeds get to host the first weekend of the tournament.
“People didn’t expect us to get second in the conference and they didn’t expect us to be a No. 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament,” Iowa State star Bridget Carleton said. “Proving people wrong and showing the country who we really are and how good we can be is super fun. It’s a bonus to it all.”
Fennelly believes a No. 3 seed is more than fair for his team.
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“For me, in the years I’ve done this, the top-4 seeds give you a home game, but after that it just means who wears what color jersey,” Fennelly said. “It’s all about matchup and style of play. Hosting is great, but after that it’s how do we play compared to New Mexico State, and we’ll figure that out more tonight.”
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