AMES — It’ll be a family affair at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday.
Iowa State (7-2) hosts Northern Iowa (7-3) in women’s basketball at 5 p.m. and a mini family reunion will break out.
Bill Fennelly is Iowa State’s coach and he’s assisted by his son Billy — that’s nothing new. But Steven Fennelly, another of Bill’s sons, is an assistant coach for UNI.
“If I had it my way, we wouldn’t be playing them,” Bill Fennelly said. “Someone is going to be a little more happy at Christmas time in my family than the other one.”
Steven Fennelly was Iowa State’s video coordinator from 2011-13 as a graduate student. After that, he spent three seasons at Cal State Fullerton as an assistant coach and then one season at Idaho as an assistant before he became an assistant for Tanya Warren in 2017.
“It’s really hard but I’m really proud of him,” Bill Fennelly said. “He’s done a great job. He loves working for coach Warren, he loves Cedar Falls. Selfishly — except for the game on Sunday — I’m glad he’s there because he’s working with and for good people. And he’s close to home, so I get to see my two grandkids a lot more than I would’ve when he was in Idaho or California.
“It’s a weird deal. There aren’t a lot of places in the country where it’s dad and two sons all in the same line of work and, unfortunately, we have to play against each other. It is what it is but the biggest thing is I’m happy he’s in a really good spot and he’s happy and he’s enjoying what he’s doing.”
Part of the reason Steven is probably enjoying his time in Cedar Falls, besides the fact he likes the people and place, is the success the Panthers are having this season.
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“They played Iowa great,” Iowa State forward Ashley Joens said. “We know they’re going to come hard and ready to go. So we have to match that and come out ready and play hard.”
UNI also beat Missouri — a second-round NCAA Tournament team last season — 78-73.
But the Panthers aren’t without their blemishes. UNI lost to Alabama 87-77, while Iowa State beat the Crimson Tide 75-66.
The third and final common opponent between Iowa State and UNI this season is North Dakota State, which both teams beat handily.
Because they’re in-state rivals and because there are family ties involved, there isn’t much the teams don’t know about each other.
“With UNI, you have to manage how they’re going to guard you,” Bill Fennelly said. “There are certain players on our team that it’ll feel like the whole team is guarding them and there will be certain players they won’t guard at all.”
Joens will get the bulk of the attention from the UNI defense. She’s averaging 24.4 points per game. The next closest Iowa State player is Kristin Scott, who is averaging 13.1 points per game.
The Cyclones need Scott to step into a bigger role to help alleviate some of the scoring load from Joens.
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Scott was dealing with a back injury earlier in the season and has started slow out of the gates. Recently, Bill Fennelly said, she’s been putting too much pressure on herself. He said she just needs to relax and let the game come to her.
“I’ve been working on that and staying confident in my shot,” Scott said. “I just have to remember that not every shot is going to go in all the time and no matter what, my coaches and teammates believe in me.”
UNI doesn’t mind slowing the game down and making its opponents grind it out.
“They do a lot of switching and they dictate the tempo of the game,” Bill Fennelly said. “They run a lot of sets on offense and they like to play games in the 50s. If you get behind or are not taking advantage of opportunities, you’re in trouble. The big question is will we be more excited to play at 5 p.m. or more excited at 7:30 to go home for Christmas? We’ll see how that goes.”
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