Iowa State's Bill Fennelly: Women's basketball race to the top is as wide open as it's been

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  • Bill Fennelly
    American basketball coach
  • Robin Pingeton
    American basketball coach

AMES — Kim Mulkey’s no longer doing the wonderful things she once did as the Baylor coach. Connecticut’s team isn’t nearly as good as past seasons. Iowan Robin Pingeton coached Missouri to a major upset against top-ranked South Carolina.

What in the world is going on with teams that once dominated women’s college basketball?

A good thing, Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said Friday morning.

“Those are things that give everyone else hope,” Fennelly said Friday. “It brings some more attention. It’s like Cincinnati being in the (College Football Playoffs). Who is that surprise team on the men’s side that generates interest from the novice fan, not the hard-core fan?”

More: The soft side behind Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly’s rivalry with LSU’s Kim Mulkey

Iowa State women's coach Bill Fennelly, whose team opens the Big 12 at home on Sunday against West Virginia, says the race for the top is as wide open as it's ever been.
Iowa State women's coach Bill Fennelly, whose team opens the Big 12 at home on Sunday against West Virginia, says the race for the top is as wide open as it's ever been.

Fennelly’s 14th-ranked team opens the Big 12 Conference season against West Virginia at 3 p.m. Sunday at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones are 11-1, the Mountaineers are 7-3, and beyond that — there are many questions.

In the past, everyone assumed the conference race would be to see who finishes behind Baylor, but the Bears are 10-2 in Nicki Collen's first season as the coach. Now, it’s a tossup, with Iowa State being among the teams that could finish atop the standings.

“The level steps up,” Fennelly said. “It’s every night now. We start out with four games in 10 days, and our league is as balanced as it’s been in my time here.”\

It’s not just the league, it’s women’s basketball in general. That was emphasized Thursday, when Missouri beat South Carolina 70-69 in overtime, but that’s just part of the story.

The winning coach was Robin (Becker) Pingeton, who played high school basketball at Cedar Rapids Jefferson, and was a Fennelly assistant between 2000-03. She orchestrated the upset, despite her team having five players sidelined due to health and safety protocol related to COVID.

Fennelly addressed that situation, too, Friday, especially the uncertainty of not knowing what games might get postponed. There's been a rash of games postponed throughout the sports world, both in college and the pros.

Iowa native and former Iowa State assistant Robin Pingeton coached Missouri to an upset of top-ranked South Carolina Thursday night.
Iowa native and former Iowa State assistant Robin Pingeton coached Missouri to an upset of top-ranked South Carolina Thursday night.

More: 'We're on a mission': What Mizzou women's basketball coach Robin Pingeton said after upsetting South Carolina

“There’s no continuity in decisions anywhere,” he said. “Everyone’s just kind of doing their own thing ... and I think that’s hard for players. My job as a coach, like when you’re a parent, is explaining to (players) why things happen, and we’re having a hard time of that.

“Everyone talks about living day-to-day, focus day-to-day, and all those things that sound really good, but none of really do. We have to. It’s frustrating. It’s hard. It’s something I’ve never experienced in my lifetime, except for last year.

“Not that we thought (the pandemic) was over, but I think most of us thought we would not be where we are today.”

Something he knows, however, is that the top of women’s basketball — nationally and in the Big 12 — is there for anyone’s taking.

“The growth of women’s basketball has to be new faces and new teams,” he said. “I hope that’s the case.”

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson embarked on his 50th year of writing sports for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State women's basketball coach says upsets give everyone hope

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