116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bodies hit the floor. Boos from Iowa State fans flooded Municipal Auditorium. And what appeared to be a cruise-control type win for the Cyclones against West Virginia, became tense — and extremely physical — until the final seconds.
Tenth-ranked ISU led by as many as 21 points, but had to fend off a spirited Mountaineers rally to prevail, 66-60, in Friday night’s first Big 12 tournament quarterfinal.
“We had a chance to knock them out,” ISU head coach Bill Fennelly said. “We couldn’t. That’s a credit to them.”
The Cyclones (26-5) shot just 19.4 percent in the second half, but survived to post their fourth straight win against West Virginia (14-15).
Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski scored 14 points apiece for ISU, which will play the winner of Friday’s late quarterfinal between Texas and Kansas State in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal (ESPN+).
“It’s March,” said Ryan, who sank four of her team’s seven second-half field goals. “So we’re going to have more physical basketball moving forward. That’s something we’ve got to get used to.”
It’s something they’ve faced all season, but West Virginia took it to another level Friday as it clamped down on ISU’s shooters after halftime.
The Cyclones shot 47 percent overall and 53 percent from beyond the arc in the first half while racing to a 41-29 lead.
ISU expanded its advantage to 21 points, at 49-28, on Morgan Kane’s layup with 7:54 left in the third quarter, but that’s when the Mountaineers clapped back.
ISU missed 17 of 18 shots in the third quarter as West Virginia slashed the lead to seven points. Nyamer Diew’s 3-pointer pushed the lead back to double digits a minute into the fourth quarter, but the Mountaineers continued to rally, pulling with four, at 64-60, on Esmery Martinez’s 3-pointer with 17 seconds left.
Donarski and Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw each hit a free throw to help the Cyclones hang on in a game that featured wild fluctuations in momentum and anything-but-mild bumps and bruises throughout.
That’s March. And that’s what everyone should expect, especially from West Virginia.
“That’s West Virginia basketball,” Fennelly said. “That’s (Mountaineers coach) Mike Carey basketball. They're talented. They’re physical. They defend. They made some tough shots. We told (our team) we might have gotten as tough a draw in the quarterfinals as anyone. Really proud of how we competed. LIke I said, West Virginia’s not gonna go away. Pleased with the way we could hang on at the end.”
Ashley Joens notched her 15th double-double of the season (13 points, a game-high 14 rebounds for ISU).
Ryan scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half and sprinkled in six assists and five rebounds. She chose to focus on her five turnovers, though.
“I personally need to be stronger with the ball and take care of it better,” the Cyclones’ single-game assists record-holder said.
Fennelly listened to Ryan’s self-criticism and offered a riposte.
“The kid is a winner,” he said. “All she wants to talk about is she had five turnovers. I tell you what, if you had the defense that she sees every night, you’re going to get your share of turnovers, too.”
Same goes for bumps, bruises and lack of rest for her, Donarski and Joens — all of whom played 40 minutes.
“We’re not on the load management here,” Fennelly said. “It’s not happening. If they don’t ask to come out of the game, they’re not coming out of the game.”