AMES, Ia. — No matter the rankings, lineups, position matchups or barometric pressure, Bill Fennelly owns a Story County stranglehold on rival Iowa.
The Iowa State women’s basketball coach interlocks his hands firmly around the Hawkeyes and squeezes the win-loss life out of them.
In Fennelly’s nine meetings against Iowa at Hilton Coliseum, the record is a neat and tidy 9-0 — still perfect after the 17th-ranked Cyclones’ 83-70 victory over No. 21 Iowa on Thursday night.
Fennelly apparently owns the titles and deeds to the mind games at Hilton, too.
Iowa used a full-court press against Iowa State’s reserves in the final minute, causing the Cyclones’ high-energy coach to order a hockey line change — shuffling all five starters back into the game.
Game. Set. Mental match.
“I thought that would be the first question,” said Fennelly when asked about the decision a few minutes into the press conference, drawing some laughs. “I really don’t care what Iowa does at the end of the game. But if they’re going to press … We sub everybody in. If she (Lisa Bluder) wants to leave her starters in, that’s her business.
“I didn’t want her trying to embarrass my second team. They didn’t press hardly at all until we subbed. I’m just not going to put those kids (reserves) out there (against a press). I don’t think it’s fair to them …
“That was my decision and I take full responsibility for it.”
Iowa State led 83-68 with 39 seconds to play when the Cyclone bench turned into a haze of scrambling jerseys.
The rankings, success and winning already had been hammered into place in this women’s basketball series. Any truly good rivalry, though, yearns for a dash of controversy and teeth-gnashing.
Bluder, for her part, almost seemed surprised the topic had been raised.
“I guess I didn’t realize that was an issue for him,” said Bluder, whose team fell to 10-2. “We’re trying to do the best until the buzzer ends and you work on situations that are going to help you …
“That game was over. So what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to get through those situations and learn so that when we play down the road, we can get better in those situations.”
One way of thinking about this final-minute brouhaha: Fennelly certainly could have swallowed the frustration and let the scoreboard do the talking for him.
Iowa State dominated most of the game, despite starting two freshmen and senior star Hallie Christofferson being shut out for nearly the first 11 minutes.
There’s an unspoken code for most, though, about how matchups like these end.
When a game drifts beyond reach, the subs hustle in, the pressing stops and everyone marches merrily down sportsmanship’s well-traveled road.
That’s clearly where Fennelly felt Iowa wandered off-script.
“My job is to protect our players,” he said. “If you’re going to press my second team, then I got to do what I got to do. That’s their choice and that was my choice.”
In the end, the 11,543 fans in Hilton watched two teams almost sure to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Fennelly said Iowa is the best opponent his 9-0 team has faced this season — and will be one of the best by the time the state thaws in the spring.
“I wish everyone in the Big Ten (Conference) good luck, because that’s a team that’s going to be very, very tough to beat down the road,” Fennelly said.
Bluder gushed, too, about the experience Fennelly has created in one of the toughest arenas in the country.
“It’s just a great environment,” she said. “You have what, 12,000 people here today? It builds their confidence so much to have that, and it becomes a communication problem for your own team.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a great environment for women’s basketball.”
Something changed on Thursday, though. Sprinkle a little Tabasco in the gumbo. Spice it up. Add some sizzle.
A rivalry just got a few degrees hotter.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball