When Baylor’s Lauren Cox placed her toes on the “T” of the “state” at center court for the opening tip off, she wasn’t the tallest player on the court, but neither was the Iowa State player who stood across the court's center line. The tallest player was her teammate Kalani Brown, who stands at 6-foot-7. Cox, a 6-foot-4 power forward, lifted her hand as the referee raised the ball for the jump. The ball was raised into the air between the two players as Cox’s hand decisively reached the ball first — winning the tipoff for the Lady Bears.
Listed as a 6-foot-1 forward but slender like a guard, her opponent, Madi Wise, shuffled back into the Cyclone defensive zone to defend her opening matchup for the game — Cox.
As Iowa State’s best defender, Wise defends the opposing team's top scorer night in and night out. From posts on the block, to guards on the 3-point line, Wise matches up with the Big 12’s top players. Wise has experienced highs and lows in a seemingly thankless role for the Cyclones.
“I tell [the team] ‘what are you doing to impact success every single day?’ And for our team — right now — Madi Wise’s main thing is to defend,” said coach Bill Fennelly.
In finding a player to fit the team’s role as top defensive stopper, Fennelly said Wise first had to accept it.
For any other player, a statline of 1-for-7 shooting from the floor and 0-for-5 from three for four points would be a letdown of a game, but Wise had done her job when Iowa State beat West Virginia 77-61.
West Virginia’s Tynice Martin had gone 2-for-15 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three for six points while primarily being guarded by Wise. Martin is currently the fourth-best scorer in the conference, averaging 17.8 points per game.
“Madi worked her butt off on defense for 40 minutes today,” Carleton said. “Tynice comes off of a lot of different screens — a lot of stagger screen, ball screens. [Wise] just worked and worked and worked and I think that was the difference.”
Due to the workload she takes in on the defensive end, Fennelly said it takes a toll on the legs of Wise, which makes her shot suffer on the other end.
Despite not producing how she wants to on the offensive end, Fennelly said Wise’s teammates understand the impact she is making on the team.
After a 104-78 win versus Oklahoma, Wise said she has been struggling shooting the ball, but it was nice to have a few shots go through en route to scoring 17 points — her second-highest total of the season. Wise averages 8.1 points per game and 35.6 percent shooting from the floor.
Against Oklahoma, Wise held Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson to six points and it marked the first time during the season she didn’t make a 3-pointer.
“She’s a really good player, hits a lot of shots ... but just take [guarding her] as a challenge,” Wise said.
Two games later, the Cyclones faced Oklahoma State and the conference's second-best scorer in Vivian Gray, who averages 19.9 points a game.
The Cyclones won the game 89-67, but Gray scored 31 points, which marked her second-best point outing of the year with Wise on the receiving end of Gray’s offensive outing.
Gray worked efficiently, shooting 65 percent from the floor and scoring a majority of her points on mid-range jump shots behind crafty dribble moves to find space to shoot.
Rather than have Wise guard Gray at the end of the game, Carleton took on the task.
Wise concluded the game with five points on 2-for-6 shooting from the floor and 1-for-4 shooting from three.
Against Baylor, Wise’s versatility was on full display. She began the game guarding Cox down on the block, but her matchups were fluid as the Cyclones adjusted their lineup to match the Lady Bears.
As another Cyclone post would enter the game, Wise would then be switched defensively onto one of the opposition guards.
“I think Madi is listed at 6-1, but she’s maybe 5-10 — 5-11, and she’s guarding 6-4 with a 6-7 wingspan and she held her own,” Carleton said. “She battled in there. It’s hard in there. They’re strong, they’re big and then she’s able to guard another of their best player who’s a guard.”
Carleton said while her offensive game may suffer, Wise has put the team above herself and has committed herself on the defensive end, which has been a game changer for the Cyclones in a record-setting season for the team.