Back to the future

Jeremy Gustafson

It was a monumental day for Iowa State.

Angie Welle tied a school record with 23 rebounds in a 85-75 victory over No. 13 Colorado. The Cyclones reeled off their fifth straight win, improving to 7-5 in the Big 12 and climbing the ranks of the conference echelon.

But perhaps the most promising of all stats didn’t find its way to the box score. Without scoring a point, grabbing a rebound or dishing out an assist, the 15 minutes that guard Erica Junod played may have impact on the ISU women’s basketball team the most.

“To have her back on the court, especially at the two guard, is just awesome,” said Lindsey Wilson, who dropped a game-high 26 points on the Buffaloes.

Junod entered the game with 12:28 remaining in the first half. As she left the bench and ran to the scorer’s table, the 13,312 Cyclone supporters in attendance rose to their feet in applause.

When it was announced that she would enter the game, the fans let loose a deafening cheer. Junod, who has been out since Nov. 5 aftering tearing her anterior cruciate ligament, was engulfed in the moment and trying to hold back a grin.

“I just went up and told her it’s okay to smile,” Welle said.

ISU head coach Bill Fennelly tried to make things easier on Junod.

“I told her `I’m gonna put you in right before the 12-minute media time out,'” Fennelly explained. “I told her when she was going in, who she was going in for, you know, to try and get her relaxed that way.”

The nervous Junod, sporting a black brace to stabilize her right knee, admitted she was happy to get this game out of the way.

“It’s good to get that first one out of the way,” Junod said. “I was nervous, I was shy.”

While Junod didn’t attempt a shot, her being back brings a new light of confidence to the Cyclones heading into the final stretch of their season.

“All of us were hoping that she would come back,” Wilson said. “We wanted it so bad, but we couldn’t hold on to it too much . We had to get some Ws before she did. She worked so hard.”

And what Junod will bring to a team that is just hitting its stride will be monumental.

“That just adds another ball-handler and takes a little pressure off Lindsey,” Welle said.

Wilson already leads the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game, and if she isn’t doing it, Welle takes over.

The All-American center is second in the conference in scoring with 19.8 points. Junior Tracy Gahan rounds out the `Big Three’ contributing 15.3 points.

While Junod isn’t likely to match those numbers, her shooting could turn the `Big Three’ into the `Big Four.’

Junod led the Big 12 last season making 52.9 percent of her three-point attempts and with Welle inside and Junod, Wilson and Gahan outside, the Cyclones are suddenly looking scary heading into March.

“We’re a different team than we were a month ago,” Welle said. “We don’t want to go back where we were. That’s the motivation for everybody, that was one of the worst feelings.”

The Cyclones started 2-5 in the Big 12, but since focusing on the last nine games of what they call their `mini-season,’ they have been on a roll.

“I think that’s why we’re trying to play so hard, we don’t want to go back to where we were a month ago,” Welle said.

Iowa State now stands a half game out of fourth place in the Big 12.

The top four teams will have a bye in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament March 5-9.

Baylor currently owns fourth place. The Lady Bears and Iowa State will meet in the regular season finale, Feb. 27 in Hilton.

The Cyclones are off until Saturday when they travel to Oklahoma State. Welle said the time off is nice, but she’s ready to keep the Cyclones’ ship on a role.

“I have four games left, so I better not be tired,” said the Cyclones’ senior leader. “I have my whole life to not run up and down a basketball court.”