Between the Bylines

A good weekend for the Cyclones


For the second time in T.J. Otzelberger’s three years as head coach of the Iowa State men’s basketball program, the Cyclones are headed to the Sweet 16.

His connection to Iowa State dates all the way back to when he was an assistant during current Creighton coach Greg McDermott’s tenure in Ames. That period of Cyclone basketball was tough to watch, but I believe everything happens for a reason. If McDermott had not had a rough go of it with Iowa State, he may not have ended up in Omaha, where he is a perfect fit.

Also, Otzelberger wouldn't have gone on to remain as an assistant under Fred Hoiberg and Steve Prohm, meet his wife (who played for the women's team under Bill Fennelly) and eventually land his dream job as the head coach of Iowa State. He is also the perfect fit for the program.

I remember Otzelberger's introductory press conference, where he promised Hilton Magic would get back to where it was supposed to be, and the Cyclones would play a physical, hard-nosed brand of basketball that would wear opponents out and make them look forward to the final buzzer.

Three years later, Iowa State went undefeated at home this season and boasts the No. 1 defense in the country. Promises made, promises kept.

When I covered the women's basketball team during my time at the Iowa State Daily, I would walk in to Hilton Coliseum using the east ramp that was reserved for media, players, coaches and staff. I would often end up behind Otzelberger and his wife, Alison Lacey, as they entered the arena with their children to take in a night of women's basketball.

For the couple, Ames was always home. Lacey, being from Australia, made Ames her home away from home during her time playing basketball there. Otzelberger earned his stripes as an assistant and recruiter for the Cyclones, waiting 15 years for the job he always wanted.

In those instances walking into the arena, you could tell how much it meant for him to be back home. There's nothing like walking down that ramp and eventually making it to the court where 14,500 fans are wrapped around what, to me, is a sacred place. You could see the look on his face — Ames is always where Otzelberger was meant to be.

During the press conference after Iowa State's win over Iowa back in his first season, Otzelberger was choked up when responding to a question about the atmosphere inside Hilton Coliseum.

It isn't just a job to him. For as much as I loved Hoiberg back in the day, I think Otzelberger is really meant to be the man” in Ames for the rest of his coaching career.

At least I hope so.

A gut-wrenching, inspiring display

Speaking of people who are the man,” women's coach Bill Fennelly just put together what I think is his best coaching job in his 30 years at Iowa State.

Coming back from 20 points down in the first round against Maryland, with freshman and Algona native Audi Crooks scoring 40 points on 18-20 shooting, the Cyclones were in for a tough one on Sunday night against No. 2 seed Stanford.

Having to face the Cardinal on their home court, a group of freshmen led by savvy senior Emily Ryan took Stanford to the brink and narrowly lost in overtime.

But I couldn't be more proud of the performance. Freshmen Addy Brown and Jalynn Bristow made big shot after big shot. Another freshman in Arianna Jackson was rushed to the locker room with blood pouring out of her chin after a hard-nosed performance. Crooks had the worst shooting game of her career, but still managed to foul out Stanford's Cameron Brink, who will be a top pick in this year's WNBA draft.

And, of course, there was Ryan draining threes and finding her teammates for easy buckets, orchestrating the Iowa State offense as a senior should. After a career-high 36 points from her, I'm really excited to see just how much better she can still get as a fifth-year senior next year.

It was a tough loss, but I learned a lot about the Cyclones' young squad on Sunday. The next four years should be a lot of fun.