116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan took note of the crowd’s roar as they huddled during a timeout.
Iowa State’s star sophomore guards couldn’t help but hear Hilton Coliseum erupt late midway through the second quarter of Sunday night’s 67-44 second-round NCAA Tournament rout of Georgia, but they didn’t care to learn what caused the enraptured outburst.
They kind of knew anyway.
Up on the video board, the Cyclone men were polishing off a 54-49 second-round tournament win over Wisconsin, creating an energy they fed off as they finished off the Bulldogs to give ISU two teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time in 22 years.
“Yeah, we weren’t able to look up too much,” said Ryan, who scored 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and doled out nine assists to become the Cyclones’ all-time single season leader in that statistical category. “But when you heard the crowd going crazy in the middle of a timeout, there's really no other option other than our guys are doing pretty well.
“So knowing that in the back of my mind is just special.”
Third-seeded ISU faces No. 10-seed Creighton on Friday in Greensboro, N.C.
The Cyclones (28-6) used an 11-0 game-opening run to make short work of a talented Bulldogs team that could never recover. The Cyclones led by as many as 26 points and turned 15 Georgia turnovers into 19 points.
Donarski paced ISU with 20 points and drained a game-high four 3-pointers. Ashley Joens added 12 points and a game-best 10 rebounds along with three steals.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever wanted something professionally more in my life than to see these guys have (a Sweet 16) opportunity,” said Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly, who has led his program to six Sweet 16s and two Elite Eights. “I thought they were phenomenal at both ends of the floor. Sometimes in life you earn things and you get it. Well, this group earned it and they got it and (it’s) pretty damn sweet.”
Sixth-seeded Georgia (21-10) struggled to find any offensive rhythm against the Cyclones’ various zone defenses, some of which they’d never previously deployed.
“We actually played a defense that we didn’t even practice,” Fennelly said. “But that’s (why) you have smart kids that understand the game. … I thought we did a really good job of keeping them out of dribble penetration and limiting the live-ball turnovers. Those are the things that we talked about and I thought the first four minutes of the game, we looked like we were giving a zone clinic.
“That’s just not the way we play, but we felt like we had to in this game and they were really, really good from the start.”
And in the end.
Ryan, Donarski and Joens were able to exit the game with less than two minutes left, smiling and embracing on the sideline as the cheers resounded in Hilton, and this time, for them.
“Being able to experience (it) with the team when we’re getting taken out with just a minute left and the realization just hits — and being able to experience it with our families and all our fans at home just makes it even more special for us,” Donarski said.