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GREENSBORO, N.C. — When what turned out to be the final game of the season arrived for Iowa State’s women’s basketball team Friday night, it wasn’t so much about the details of what went wrong.
It was processing the impact of the entire journey to this stage.
“Obviously, tonight hurts,” coach Bill Fennelly said after the Cyclones dropped a 76-68 NCAA Sweet 16 decision to Creighton at Greensboro Coliseum. “Obviously, tonight is disappointing. It should be. If you invest in something in your life and it doesn't go your way, you should be disappointed, but what they accomplished is amazing. We’ll celebrate that at another time.”
While the Cyclones huddled briefly on the court before exiting with quick waves to their fans, there was great jubilation on the other side of the court where the Creighton contingent celebrated.
So a season with so much to appreciate collided with the harsh cruelty of a sudden departure.
The third-seeded Cyclones (28-7) won their first two NCAA Tournament games on their home court, but they never could get a grasp on Creighton, the region’s No. 10 seed.
“We had a really great season,” Iowa State senior Ashley Joens said. “It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but looking back, we all stuck together, and it was a great team. We all stuck together and are very connected, which makes it a lot more fun when you can win and be this close.”
It marked the most wins in school history for the Cyclones. Such good things often conclude with a loss.
“When it happens, it’s sudden,” Fennelly said of the tournament exit.
So afterward, Fennelly was left to comfort his team and his 7-year-old grandson, who was sobbing.
“I said, you know, Will, don’t cry because it’s over,” Fennelly said. “Smile because it happened, and we’re going to smile big when we get home.”
Iowa State’s Emily Ryan scored 22 points, Nyamer Diew posted 15, Joens poured in 14 and Lexi Donarski had 11.
Those were enough to counter the 11 baskets from 3-point range for the Bluejays, who were led by Morgan Maly’s 21 points and Tatum Rembao’s 19.
Creighton (23-9), which knocked out Iowa a round earlier to reach its first Sweet 16 in program history, will face tournament favorite South Carolina in Sunday night’s regional final for the right to go to the Final Four.
Iowa State fell short of advancing to its third Elite Eight.
The Cyclones led for almost 15 minutes of game time in the first half before Creighton pulled even at 30-30 by the break.
So Iowa State seemed to withstand a stretch with Joens on the bench for the last 6:43 after picking up her second foul.
But the Cyclones never held a second-half lead, trailing 55-46 late in the third quarter.
“Amazing to have that lead going into the fourth quarter and do enough to stick it out,” Maly said.
Then it was 61-51 a minute into the fourth. Rembao’s 3-pointer made it 66-53 and time became a factor.
But the Cyclones were within 68-64 when Creighton’s Lauren Jensen sank two free throws with 1:42 left. Ryan’s basket made it 71-68 at the 39-second mark. Rembao scored the game’s last five points on foul shots.
“We were clawing ourselves back into the game, and we made some plays that we needed to make to get ourselves in a position to have a chance at it,” Ryan said. “Ultimately, we weren't able to make quite enough of them.”