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AMES — When Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly learned his team would start its first-round NCAA Tournament game against UT Arlington at 9 p.m. Friday, he began to form the basis for a joke.
“Emily Ryan’s in bed at 9:00,” Fennelly said, referring to his star sophomore point guard. “We’ve got to figure something out.”
Fennelly, Ryan and the rest of the No. 3-seed Cyclones did just that — and shined just enough down the stretch to outlast the 14th-seeded Mavericks, 78-71, at Hilton Coliseum.
Ryan scored 11 of her 20 points in the fourth quarter as ISU (27-6) completed a double-digit comeback to advance to Sunday’s 7 p.m. second-round matchup (ESPN2) with No. 6 seed Georgia (21-9).
So her sleep routine is overrated. For now, anyway.
“Yeah, after a game you’re always a little amped up,” said Ryan, whose five points in a one-minute span put the Cyclones ahead for good, 66-64, with 4:58 left. “Getting calmed down and going to sleep is tough. So it was a late night for sure, but we’re going to be ready to go (Sunday).”
They’d better be. Georgia guards ferociously both in the paint and on the perimeter. The Bulldogs’ offense comes from a variety of sources — and talented 6-5 forward Jillian Hollingshead scored 15 points in 15 minutes in their 70-54 first-round win over Dayton.
“Their size is almost overwhelming,” said Fennelly, whose team is one win away from its first Sweet 16 appearance in 12 years. “I mean they just keep bringing — when you’re bringing kids like (Hollingshead) off the bench, you’re like, that kid’s going to start and play 30 minutes a game on a lot of teams. They’re big, they’re skilled. They know exactly what they want to do.”
The Cyclones trailed by as many as 12 points late Friday before a second-half surge propelled them past the Mavericks. One big reason: Another sterling performance from senior and all-time leading scorer Ashley Joens. The former Iowa City High standout scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to notch her 48th career double-double. She’s averaging 33.7 points and 14 rebounds in her past three NCAA Tournament games and will need to continue to shine statistically if ISU is to upend the Bulldogs, who recently welcomed Hollingshead back to the rotation as she continues to recover from long-standing knee issues.
“They’re a very talented team and very athletic, so I think just the main thing is playing our game and focusing on who we are and really buy into the scouting report,” Joens said.
Getting a rare good night’s sleep would help, too.
Fennelly said he finally went to bed around 3:30 a.m. Saturday after poring over Georgia video and texting back and forth with his assistants.
“I think everyone was — like my wife (Deb) kept saying, ‘I’m exhausted,’” Fennelly said. “And I think everyone was.”
A six-pack of energy drinks revved Fennelly right back up Saturday morning at 7. Slumber can — and must — wait during the month of March.
“We’ve got time to sleep,” Fennelly said. “Everyone’s doing the same thing. You’d be disappointed if you weren’t that way.”