AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team barely sat down before it heard its NCAA tournament destination.
The team was at Coach Bill Fennelly’s house eating upstairs when he rounded them up to watch the selection show in the basement. After spending the last month-and-a-half on the tournament bubble, the instant gratification of getting a ticket punched calmed some nerves.
Iowa State was picked as a No. 9 seed and will face No. 8 seed Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Storrs, Conn. Tipoff has been slated for 12:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2).
“So having it right away was such a relief,” said point guard Jadda Buckley. “We were really excited and it just kind of a shock, too. We were like, ‘Oh, yeah! That’s us!’ It was really cool.”
Iowa State (18-12) was absent from the NCAA tournament last year, and appeared to be headed that way this year before a turnaround in February. The Cyclones won six of their last seven games in the regular season, including an upset at Texas.
This will be the 17th trip to the Big Dance in Fennelly’s tenure — and in school history. Iowa State is one of just 13 schools nationally to make the NCAA tournament in 10 of the last 11 years.
“Even in Canada, everyone loves watching March Madness,” said sophomore guard Bridget Carleton, a Chatham, Ontario, native. “It’s a huge opportunity and to be able to play in it is huge for me. It’s been our goal obviously since the start of the season and I think it just shows our resiliency.”
Recent bracket projections had Iowa State among the last four teams in the tournament field, although Fennelly said nothing eased his mind during the last week-and-a-half.
“I really felt like this team the last part of the season really earned it,” Fennelly said. “You wanted to see them rewarded for their effort. You just don’t know.
“I’m crunching numbers and watching games that I never would have watched. My staff laughs at me all the time, I’m sending them pictures.”
Syracuse (21-10) is ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 22 in the coaches’ poll and played in last year’s national championship game against Connecticut.
The Orange, Fennelly said, are known for their 3-point shooting and zone defense and give Iowa State a fresh matchup from what it normally sees in Big 12 play.
“They don’t know us and we don’t know them,” said senior forward Seanna Johnson. “So you go out there and you’ve just got to go out there and play. I’ve watched Syracuse play, but you don’t know what their tendencies are because you don’t normally play them.”
Should Iowa State get past Syracuse, a date with No. 1 Connecticut — which has won 107 consecutive games — is on the line. Fennelly isn’t allowing any of that talk to surface, though.
“I told them if anybody mentions it, they’re going to be in trouble,” Fennelly said. “When you’re playing a team that was in the national championship game last year, we’ve got enough to worry about. We’re going to focus on Syracuse.”
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