Cyclones wrap up regular season against West Virginia


Zach Netteland/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly talks to the team during the Cyclones’ 89-67 win over Oklahoma on Feb. 19.

Aaron Hickman

With just one game left in the regular season and a chance at sharing the Big 12 title with Baylor before heading south for the conference tournament, all the drama and anticipation that March brings can start to get to you.

The same is true for Iowa State women’s basketball.

“I think they’re like everyone else,” Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly said about his players. “They see all the tournaments starting, and everyone’s talking a lot about the Big 12 Tournament. They’re doing what they normally do which is good. Hopefully they’re just ready to finish this the right way.”

Finishing things the right way would mean another season-sweep, this time against West Virginia on Saturday in Morgantown.

The Cyclones, who beat the Mountaineers 88-72 back in January, will be facing a slightly different squad than the last time around.

Junior forward Esmery Martinez, who missed the last matchup between the two teams, will be back in the lineup for West Virginia. Coming off of a 22-point, 19-rebound performance against Kansas State, Iowa State will have its hands full with yet another impressive post-presence.

With all five of the Cyclones’ losses coming to Baylor, Texas and LSU, who all play very similar styles of basketball when it comes to physicality and personnel, it will be interesting to see how the team handles the 6-foot-2 Martinez.

Doing well against players like Ayoka Lee previously this season, the blueprint is there. It will surely take a group effort to slow down someone of such size and skill.

“I think it’s a combination of size that’s always an issue,” Fennelly said. “You can’t combat size in the women’s game as easily as you can in the men’s game sometimes. The physicality on the perimeter, I think what happens is as the season goes on they call less fouls and you just have to deal with it.”

“It’s not our kids’ fault, it’s my fault. That’s not how we coach, that’s not how we play, that’s not what we recruit to, and I’ve gotta do a better job of figuring out a way to do it.”

Nyamer Diew is someone who has helped out a lot with the team’s offensive and defensive production as the season has progressed. Being able to guard multiple positions, she should play a significant part in Iowa State’s game plan.

The coaching staff has helped Diew through moments where she’s struggled, and they showed faith in her coming back from an injury earlier in the season.

Understanding her unique position and what she brings to the team, the sophomore enjoys playing in that Swiss army knife role.

“I just wanna do anything to help my team win,” Diew said. “If that means playing the two today, then that means me playing the two. If that means me playing the five, I’m gonna do whatever it takes to help our team win. At the end of the day I just want what’s best for our team.”

With Baylor playing a day after the Cyclones on Sunday, it would be easy to worry about how that game will go while preparing for the Mountaineers.

Despite the loss on Monday, Iowa State still has a chance to share the Big 12 regular-season title with a Bears squad that has accomplished the feat for over a decade straight. It would take a win by the Cyclones and a loss by Baylor to create a tie atop the conference.

Fennelly is confident that his players understand the assignment and know not to look ahead. Maintaining a “next 40 minutes” approach all season has got them to this point, and they’re not going to stray away from it anytime soon.

“Don’t worry about anyone else because once you get your mind focused on other things then it usually doesn’t end well,” Diew said. “We’re just gonna focus on the next 40 minutes, which is West Virginia.”

Tip-off is at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va. The game can be streamed on Big 12 now on ESPN+.