Posts Tagged ‘NCAA Tournament’

How do Geno and his Huskies do it?

March 26, 2010

AMES — Bill Fennelly needed a break.

The television in his office Thursday afternoon was tuned to his second-favorite pastime after his Iowa State women’s basketball team – St. Louis Cardinal baseball.

“Hey man,” Fennelly quipped, “if you’ve been watching as much Connecticut video as I have, you’d want to watch something different. Something positive.”

The Cyclones will line up against No. 1-ranked and unbeaten UConn Sunday at 11 a.m. in Dayton, Ohio; looking to pull a Sweet 16 upset for the ages.

The Huskies (35-0) have won an incredible 74 consecutive games. How exactly?

Players like Tina Charles and Maya Moore sure help, but coach Geno Auriemma is the straw that stirs the drink. He gets his seemingly endless stream of blue-chippers to play at their best every minute they are on the floor.

“It can’t be just the players he recruits,” Fennelly said. “It’s built into their team and he demands it. Most of us try to demand it and don’t achieve it… He’s arguably one of the best basketball coaches of all-time.”

The NCAA-record winning streak has ISU’s coach most impressed.

“Not many people can say they showed up for work every day and do it at a very high level,” Fennelly said. “They’ve done it 74 times in a row.”

Connecticut has beaten its first to NCAA tournament opponents by a combined 110 points, including a 90-36 beat down of Temple, whose head coach, Tonya Cardoza, spent 14 seasons as an assistant under Auriemma in Storrs, Conn.

It doesn’t matter who you are. This team is relentless – and supremely confident.

“You’d better play or they are going to bury you,” Fennelly said. “The minute you relax it can go bad quick… They like the idea that they are better than everybody else. They act like it, they talk like it and play like it. You had better be ready for it.”


Cyclone women’s hoops takes a hit

April 14, 2009

Iowa State’s women’s basketball team took a big blow Monday with the news that freshmen Ashley Arlen and Alexis Yackley are leaving the team.

Arlen’s decision is the most impactful, and truth be told, odd.

This has all the indications of a blindside.  

The 6-1 forward played in 34 games last season and averaged 3.5 points and 3.1 rebounds. With the graduations of post players Nicky Wieben, Amanda Nisleit, Jocelyn Anderson and Toccara Ross, Arlen would have played an important role next season with ISU coming off an Elite Eight run in the NCAA Tournament.

A talented freshman class is on the way, with 6-6 center Anna Prins, 6-2 Amanda Zimmerman and 6-1 Chelsea Poppens coming in, but Arlen was the only forward remaining with significant experience and had the inside track to a starting spot.

Six-foot junior Genesis Lightbourne is the only other returning frontcourt player.

Here’s what Arlen said Monday, through an athletic department press release:

“I’ve met some great people and have learned a lot in the last year, but I don’t think this is the right fit for me at this time. I have not made any future plans at this point. I want to thank coach (Bill) Fennelly and the coaching staff for giving me the chance to play basketball at Iowa State. I will never forget my teammates and the memories we made last season.”

The Cascade native has some skills and seemingly had a promising future. Is she leaving ISU and the Big 12 to earn more playing time at a lower-level Division I school?

Does she miss playing basketball in eastern Iowa?

Would any of us be surprised if she ended up a Hawkeye?

Yackley, who hails from Onida, S.D., averaged two points and shot 28.6 percent from the field in 25 games last season. It would have been nice to see her progress next season and beyond, but Yackley’s absence won’t stunt the Cyclones’ growth too badly. 

That’s three members of ISU’s class of 2008 class gone after last week’s news that guard Claire Rockall was returning to Ireland to continue her basketball career.

Fennelly now has three scholarships available for next season. Will he fill any of them?

Stay tuned.

How long before ISU women do this again?

April 1, 2009

Iowa State’s women’s basketball team advanced as far as it ever has in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Stanford in the Elite Eight earlier this week.

What are the chances they can do this again in the near future?

Hard to say right now.

If recruits see ISU as a destination and Coach Bill Fennelly continues to get the most out of his players, what’s to stop them?

The Cyclones’ style of offense is unique and can give opponents difficulty if it is not ready to guard the 3-pointer or be disciplined on the defensive end with all the sets ISU runs.

Improve athletically at some spots and this is a perrennial Sweet 16 team with hopes for more. 

That said, some pretty important players are leaving the program in guard Heather Ezell and post players Nicky Wieben and Amanda Nisleit.

You’d have never believed it four years ago when she came in — or now, really, with career scoring and rebounding averages of 4.9 and 3.4, respectively — but Nisleit may be the biggest loss.

The forward’s numbers got better every year and she was the only Cyclone named to the Berkeley Regional all-tournament team. She averaged 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the four postseason games.

All this from an unathletic, 6-footer from Woodbury, Minn., who few expected much from.

“Next year we are all going to be looking around saying, ‘Where’s Nis?’” Coach Bill Fennelly said. “There’s not a kid who plays any harder. She’s 6-foot and can’t jump over the Gilbert phone book, but it’s all about effort.”

“With her and Heather (Ezell), you can’t measure heart or their soul or how much commitment they have to this school and this team.”

Guard Alison Lacey will be a senior next season and the unquestioned leader of the team. She’ll need some help carrying the scoring load with four of the team’s top seven scorers out of eligibility.

Ezell finished her career tied with Megan Taylor for the school’s all-time record for 3-pointer made (287). And Wieben could be counted on to average 10 to 12 points and 5 to 8 rebounds a game.

Some really talented freshmen are coming in — perhaps the most touted collection of recruits Fennelly has had in his 14 seasons.

Local kid — and former Lacey teammate at Ballard High School, in nearby Huxley — Amanda Zimmerman is one of three newcomers standing 6-foot-1 or taller.

The highest-rated of the bunch is 6-6 center Anna Prins from Broomfield, Colo., whose team won its third-straight Class 4A state championship and has a 106-4 record during her four seasons at the school.

Prins scored 15 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, blocked seven shots and dished out two assists in the championship game. 

She has a chance to be an impact player in her first season.

Aplington-Parkersburg forward Chelsea Poppens and Midland, Mich., guard Jessica Schroll are the other two members of the incoming class. Poppens is 6-2, Schroll is 5-11.

Shooting guard Kelsey Bolte, a junior-to-be, will have to take her game up a level.

It would be nice if Denae Stuckey could be more of an offensive threat, but what she provides in energy, defense and hustle is awfully good for this group.

Forward Ashley Arlen and guard Whitney Williams flashed some promise in their freshmen seasons and are the heir apparents at their positions.

ISU’s starting five come November could look something like this: Lacey, Bolte, Williams, Prins, Arlen. With Stuckey, sophomore guard Alexis Yackley, and the freshmen coming off the bench.

Most importantly, the Cyclones have a floor general, someone who has the ball at crunch time and can create for herself and others at any time.

Stacy Frese, Lindsey Wilson, Anne O’Neil and Lyndsey Medders are some of the players Fennelly has had in the past.

Lacey is that person and has to be in her final season for the Cyclones to succeed.

The Cyclones’ hopes for another deep tournament run next season rest on her shoulders. It took 10 years for ISU to duplicate its Elite Eight run of the 1998-99 season.

With the taste fresh in their mouths, these players and recruits don’t want to wait another decade for it to happen again.




How sweet…Fennelly lets his guard down

March 25, 2009

This one was special. Bill Fennelly didn’t have to say it.

His face told us so.

So did the emphatic fist pump as Iowa State was breaking free late from gritty No. 12 seed Ball State, and into its first Sweet 16 since 2001.

Fennelly, normally stoic and ultra composed, flashed a smile and a rare display of exuberance. And as those of us who’ve followed his Cyclones for the last several years can attest, his pearly whites don’t show themselves very often when there’s time still on the clock.

His beloved senior class — with four-year players Heather Ezell, Nicky Wieben and Amanda Nisleit — will play on. It is ISU’s fourth trip to the Sweet 16 in Fennelly’s 14 seasons as head coach. 

The man understands and appreciates the moment more than most coaches. He knows how difficult it is to break through to the Regional portion of the NCAA tournament.

This team, after two previous second-round exits, got what it deserved.

But ISU’s 71-57 win over the Cardinals did not come easy.

We all expected Tennessee to be waiting in the second round. It would have been easy for the No. 4 seeded Cyclones to let down, thinking the Fighting Lettermans were in over their heads in their first-ever trip to the NCAAs.

No way they can get up for another massive upset after embarrassing the defending champ Lady Vols, right?

ISU sucked it up, adjusted to how it was being defended, played tough defense of its own and hit free throws down the stretch.

“When we were in the huddle with about four minutes left, Coach Fennelly said that we’ve been up seven (points) five or six times and we’re either going to the Sweet 16 or we’re not,” said sophomore Kelsey Bolte, who had 16 points and hit 5 3-pointers. “I think we all put our foot down and played with a lot of aggression and passion and heart.”

ISU (26-8) plays No. 9 seed Michigan State Saturday night in Berkeley, Calif., one win shy of tying the school record for wins.

The contest tips off at 8 p.m. Iowa time.

The Spartans shocked top-seeded Duke Tuesday night, which surely didn’t upset ISU players and coaches once they learned of that little fact.

What a night. Fennelly should still be smiling.

Sweet or sour (16) for Cyclone women?

March 23, 2009

There’s good news and bad news Cyclone fans:

The good… Iowa State’s second-round NCAA tournament opponent is a No. 12 seed from the one-bid Mid-American Conference who notched its first-ever NCAA victory Sunday night. The Cyclones have been to the tournament 11 times in 14 years under Coach Bill Fennelly and won at least one game 10 of those trips.

The bad… That opponent — Ball State — bounced defending national champion Tennessee, a historic event no matter massive the rebuilding project is for Pat Summitt. The Lady Vols had never been beaten in the first or second rounds of the NCAAs.

Never. In the 28-year history of the event.

Ball State’s 71-55 win at E.A. Diddle Arena in Bowling Green, Ky., a few hours northwest of Rocky Top, was a shocker. Even BSU players couldn’t believe the lopsided final score.

“I would be lying to you if I told you I thought it would be a 16-point victory,” guard Kiley Jarrett said. “It is just unbelievable.”

The Cardinals (26-8 overall, 14-2 MAC) had just one win this season against the tournament field, against an Evansville team that made it in with a losing record and was beaten 80-45 by Texas A&M in the first round.

What they have now is confidence, and a lot of it.

The pressure is all on Iowa State (25-8) to live up to its No. 4 seed at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night on ESPN2.

Beating Tennessee — who became the first defending champs to fall in their first game the following year — was Ball State’s biggest win in school history.

Can David Letterman U. do that one better?

I doubt it.

But Iowa State may not be in as good of a position as some think. They are favored to win and should be, though their opponents have a lot of momentum and nothing to lose.

That’s a dangerous combination.

One and done, what now?

March 12, 2009

Iowa State’s men’s basketball season ended Wednesday night in Oklahoma City with a 81-67 loss to Oklahoma State at the Big 12 Tournament.

Few in Cyclone Nation were surprised or, quite frankly, disappointed.

Spring football practice begins March 24. The women’s basketball team is ranked in the top 20 and headed for another NCAA Tournament. ISU’s wrestling team qualified all 10 wrestlers for next week’s national championships. 

There are things to look forward to in Ames.

The Cyclones were playing out the string, building for a 2009-10 season that hopefully includes star forward Craig Brackins. 

The Cyclones finished 15-17 overall, Coach Greg McDermott’s third straight season missing out on postseason play, and were 4-12 in league play.

There’s work to do be done, quite obviously.

Athleticism, consistency, late-game execution — all need major upgrades. Pieces are there for McDermott, who returns everybody but seniors Alex Thompson, Sean Haluska and Bryan Petersen.

Fine people and solid players they are. Program-turning talents they are not.

Iowa State has reason to think next year will better.

Brackins has to realize he’d benefit by waiting another year to jump to the NBA, junior college transfer Marquis Gilstrap has to live up to the hype, Diante Garrett must be able to produce every game out and Chris Colvin has to be ready to play immediately.

Lucca Staiger and Jamie Vanderbeken proved they can be offensive weapons.

Marquette transfer Scott Christopherson should be a factor, judging by his work during practice while he sat out the season. 

Justin Hamilton needs to keep improving but has a nice upside.

ISU’s prospects for next year hinge on Brackins, who would be silly not to at least go through NBA workouts to see where teams are telling him he stacks up with the rest of the draft class.

He can still return if he doesn’t hire an agent.

That’s the postseason storyline we’ll all be following. In the meantime, enjoy the wrestling, Cyclone women’s hoops and spring football updates.

Iowa State’s scholarship breakdown for ’09-10, assuming there are no changes

Seniors: F Jamie Vanderbeken, G/F Marquis Gilstrap

Juniors: F Craig Brackins, G Diante Garrett, G Charles Boozer, G Lucca Staiger

Sophomores: G Justin Hamilton, G Wes Eikmeier, G Dominique Buckley, G Scott Christopherson, G Clinton Mann

Freshmen: F L.A. Pomlee, G Chris Colvin

ISU hoops… what if?

February 26, 2009

Hypotheticals have never really interested me, but let’s think for a minute what might have been with Iowa State’s basketball team.

Humor me here, folks.

The Cyclones are 14-14 overall, 3-10 in the Big 12 heading into Saturday’s game at Texas A&M.

Where would ISU be sitting right now with Wesley Johnson playing the small forward spot? It’s a question I’ve had posed to me numerous times this year.

Is the former standout — who currently sitting out the season at Syracuse waiting to be eligible — the difference between ISU’s season ending after the conference tourney in a few weeks or earning an NIT berth? 

Is an NCAA bid out of the question? I don’t think it is.

A handful of players still keep in contact with Johnson, exchanging text messages and the like. Guard Diante Garrett says he’s caught glimpses of the 6-7 forward on the Orange bench during TV broadcasts. 

But Garrett and his teammates aren’t sitting around lamenting Johnson’s loss in the midst of a disappointing season.

“I just left that in the past. I don’t think about it that much,” Garrett said.

“You can if you want to, but what’s the point,” said guard Bryan Petersen. “Yeah, he was a really talented player and I’m not going to sit here and say he wouldn’t have helped if he was on our team. He probably would have. But you can’t do that. He’s not here and he’s not coming back.”

The talented forward curiously skipping town last May, claiming he and coach Greg McDermott had a falling out. McDermott was surprised to hear of this, to say the least.

I don’t think there’s any question this team would be markedly better with Johnson wearing cardinal and gold (or whatever colors they are).

How much better? That’s up for debate.

I believe he probably gives ISU a half-dozen more victories, which has the program right on the cusp of a postseason berth that it hasn’t had since making the NCAA Tournament during the 2004-05 season.

The Cyclones don’t have an athletic wing player like Johnson, who can score from inside and out, defend and rebound the ball amongst the trees.

They will next season in Marquis Gilstrap, a transfer from Gulf Coast (Fla.) Community College.

That doesn’t help the here and now. Johnson would have been a junior.

His absence has been helpful for players like Garrett, Craig Brackins, Lucca Staiger and Charles Boozer. Boozer has seen the floor far more than he would have if Johnson were here, and done good things.

Garrett and Brackins, both just sophomores, accepted leadership roles as two of the most experienced players on a team made up primarily of freshmen and sophomores.

“It’s given some of these young guys a chance to step up,” Petersen said.

McDermott’s endured some difficult losses in his three seasons as head coach. He saw his top returning player leave the program in consecutive years and may have it happen again if Brackins decides to forgo his final two years of eligibility in favor of the NBA.

And we’ll again be left to wonder, what if?

Fan favorite returns to Hilton

February 22, 2009

It’s been more than a decade since Dedric Willoughby heard the cheers from inside Hilton Coliseum.

The sharpshooting Iowa State guard returned Saturday, honored as one of 15 players on the school’s All-Century team.  He was not in attendance at last year’s big celebration, but got his due at halftime of ISU’s game against Kansas State.

Willoughby’s wife, Vonda, and 7-year-old daughter took it all in with him.

“I was telling my wife I hope I don’t cry,” he said. “I’m not a real emotional guy, but I hope I don’t shed a tear. I love this place. I’m sorry it took me so long to come back.”

Willoughby, who now manages a seafood restaurant in suburban Atlanta, led the Cyclones to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances from 1995-97. He was a first-team all-conference selection and team MVP both seasons and still holds school records for 3-pointers in a season (102) and a single game (9).

He played 25 career games in the NBA, with the Chicago Bulls and former ISU coach Tim Floyd during the 1999-00 season.

His family of course knew he played basketball professionally. What they didn’t know is how beloved Willoughby is here in Ames.

“The biggest thing about (Saturday) was getting my wife and daughter to get to know this side of me, that i played basketball at this level,” he said.  “They don’t know me as a basketball player.”

Willoughby left town immediately following ISU’s last-second NCAA Tournament loss to UCLA at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

He has not completed his degree, but says he is taking steps to do so.

Willoughby, 34, looks to be in good shape and plays three to four times a week. He said he still bombs away from long distance.

His professional hoops career is over.

“I don’t think i have it in me. I like where I am at right now as far as my family and things,” Willoughby said.

He spoke to the current group of Cyclones Saturday during the team’s pre-game shootaround. His message: appreciate the people who come out to support you. The fan base at ISU is special. 

 “I told the guys to give 110 percent, because this place is going to give you 11o percent. Leave it all out there,” Willoughby said.

He does what he can to keep up with his old team.

“I’ve heard about the Brackins kid and been hearing real good things about him. He’s killin’. He’s a real humble guy, too. Real soft spoken. Reminds me of myself.”

Ahhhh, right.