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Iowa State Daily

A look back at the 2023-24 Iowa State women’s basketball season

Elizabeth Lane
Addy Brown (L) and Audi Crooks (R) wait for the game vs. Oklahoma to start at T-Mobile Center on March 11, 2024.

AMES — This past season was nothing short of special for the Iowa State women’s basketball team. With new faces all around, the question of how the team would perform poured in.

After the Cyclones took home the 2022-23 Big 12 Tournament Championship, lots of players either left due to graduation or entered the transfer portal, which left a big gap in the roster. Those spots were filled with a large freshman class and two impact transfers.

Add the seven new players to the absence of Emily Ryan to start the season, and it looked like it would be a learning year for Iowa State. Nevertheless, the Cyclones went to work and proved themselves right.

Freshmen lead the way

The season got off to a shaky start when Iowa State lost to Drake in the Knapp Center. The freshmen players were thrust into starting roles sooner than expected with Ryan out for the foreseeable future.

Addy Brown and Arianna Jackson were the first freshmen to get a spot in the starting lineup, which happened in the first game of the season against Butler. Audi Crooks soon followed and started in the final 29 games.

Every freshman started at least two games, with Brown being not just the lone freshman but the only player to start all 33 games. Brown became a key player early on and led the Cyclones in rebounds at the end of the season with 8.2 per game and averaged 13 points per game.

The ability Brown showcased to score and grab rebounds allowed her to record 10 double-doubles, the most of any Cyclone on the season.

While Brown had a great year as a freshman, Crooks had one of the best in Iowa State history. The Algona, Iowa native broke multiple Iowa State records in her rookie campaign.

Crooks scored 635 points as a freshman, which was the most by an Iowa State freshman in a season. She also made 258 field goals to break the Iowa State single-season record.

As a result of her play, Crooks was named Big 12 Freshman of the Week multiple times and was the Big 12 Player of the Week twice. Crooks averaged 19.2 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Both Brown and Crooks were a part of the Big 12 All-Freshman Team, the third time in Iowa State history two freshmen made the list. Crooks was a part of the All-Big 12 First Team and Brown was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.

Jackson was the other freshman who was a usual starter throughout the second half of the season. She was credited by head coach Bill Fennelly and her teammates as the best defender on the team. Though she did not shoot a lot, Jackson did shoot 41.3% from beyond the arc.

Kelsey Joens and Jalynn Bristow started a few games as freshmen, but mainly came in off the bench. When they were in games, they were efficient. Bristow shot 47.7% from the field and Joens was always making extra effort plays, diving for loose balls, swooping in for rebounds and forcing steals in big moments.

Transfers fill in where needed

The freshmen stepped up in many ways early and as the season progressed, but so did the transfers.

Hannah Belanger transferred to Iowa State after four seasons at Truman State. She used her final year of eligibility to play at the Division I level.

Belanger was not scouted by many Division I schools even though she was a top 3-point shooter at Truman State. Her ability translated well as a Cyclone and Belanger shot 38.9% from three, going 74-for-190 in her final collegiate season.

Being the shooter she was, Belanger was a starter from the get-go. She started all but one game for Iowa State and averaged 31.2 minutes per game.

Isnelle Natabou joined Crooks as a true center for Iowa State. Natabou transferred from Sacramento State and started the first four games of the season before Crooks eventually took the starting spot.

Even so, Natabou was always supporting her teammates, especially Crooks. When Natabou was in games, she provided solid minutes off the bench and was a lockdown defender. She shot 53.4% from the floor.

With all of the new faces, leaders were found in the two returning seniors from the 2022-23 championship team: Ryan and Nyamer Diew.

Diew was the lone senior that played throughout the first nine games with Ryan out due to a leg injury. In her last season with Iowa State, Diew started 19 games and helped lead Iowa State at the beginning of the season.

When Ryan returned from her injury, she was the one to take over the reins. The ‘Floor General’ lived up to her name and averaged 6.8 assists per game after playing in 24 games.

Ryan became the all-time assists leader at Iowa State with 782 as her career total at the end of the season. She was the top free throw shooter for the Cyclones with a season average of 88.5%. From the field, Ryan shot 48.7% and 43.5% from the perimeter.

Once Ryan returned and was back in the starting lineup, Iowa State looked like a new team. The Cyclones experienced a hot start to the Big 12 season that followed with a rough middle stretch before a 4-0 finish to the regular season.

There were many highs in league play, including a season sweep over Kansas State, an upset over a top-5 team in Baylor and a 19-point comeback at home over a ranked West Virginia squad.

Cyclones exceed expectations in postseason

Iowa State finished with a 12-6 Big 12 record to finish fourth in the conference. The regular season effort gave the Cyclones a double-bye in the Big 12 Tournament, where they beat Baylor and upset Oklahoma to reach the title game, where they ultimately fell to Texas.

For their efforts in the Big 12 Tournament, Ryan and Crooks were named to the All-Big 12 Tournament Team.

When the time for the NCAA Tournament selection came, Iowa State was expected to be anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 9 seed. At the beginning of the season, not many people expected the Cyclones to even make the big dance, but here they were.

Iowa State was awarded a No. 7 seed and a matchup with Maryland. In the first NCAA Tournament game for Crooks, she dropped a career high 40 points on 18-for-20 shooting. Crooks put the team on her back and led Iowa State to a 20 point comeback to beat Maryland and advance to the next round.

The comeback was the second largest in the history of the women’s NCAA Tournament. Crooks’ 40 points was the most by a freshman in a tournament game in women’s NCAA Tournament history.

In the second round, it was Ryan who led the way. Ryan scored a career-high 36 points and shot 6-for-9 from 3-point range. The sole effort from Ryan forced overtime against No. 2 seed Stanford, but it was not enough in the end.

Despite the end, the 2023-24 season will be looked back on as a good one. Iowa State was not expected to have the type of success it had.

All of the freshmen, the transfers and returning players defied the odds all season to finish 21-12, make the Big 12 Championship, make the NCAA Tournament and nearly make the Sweet 16.

The sky is the limit next season for Iowa State.

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    Michael Bradley | Apr 1, 2024 at 8:01 am

    Great season and excited for the next.
    Congratulations to the team