116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly grabbed a pen and carefully crafted his message.
Late Wednesday night after the No. 15 Cyclones beat No. 12 Iowa for the first time since 2015, his inspirational handwritten note would be hung on his team’s locker room door at the Sukup Practice Facility. It helped frame the importance of Sunday’s game against gritty Northern Iowa — and his players certainly took notice.
“It just says, ‘Drake W, Iowa W, UNI question mark,” Fennelly said. “Last in-state sweep, 2013.’”
Those scrawled words turned into reality Sunday for the Cyclones (10-1), who staved off the Panthers’ rousing late rally and escaped with a 70-69 win before 9,726 fans at Hilton Coliseum.
UNI went on a late 8-0 run and senior point guard Carli Rucker lifted up a last-second shot that came perilously close to rendering Fennelly’s sign moot.
The Panthers (6-3) barely missed notching their second straight road win in the series, but showed that once again they’ll be a tough out in Missouri Valley Conference play.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” UNI Coach Tanya Warren said. “I liked our fight. We challenged them at halftime and I thought we answered the call. Just a terrific basketball game. Iowa State’s well coached. They have terrific players and it was just a battle. We got the shot we wanted in the end and it just didn’t fall.”
Lexi Donarski led the Cyclones with 19 points and said from her vantage point, the shot looked like it would fall. ISU forward Morgan Kane — who posted her first career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds — thought the same.
It was, as Warren said, “a terrific game,” and the Cyclones did just enough to replace Fennelly’s question mark with the letter ‘W.’
“I’d just say (it was) a sigh of relief more than anything,” Donarski said.
Few outside of UNI’s locker room would have seen a comeback as possible.
The Panthers made just 1-for-15 field goals in the second quarter and went 0-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half as ISU built it’s largest lead at 34-23.
UNI guard Kam Finley paced all scorers with 28 points — with 20 coming in the second half.
“I really liked her mindset,” Warren said. “I thought she did a terrific job.”
She did such a good job that Fennelly’s prophetic sign nearly became destined for the trash can, but the Cyclones found a way to hang on for the coveted in-state sweep.
“To do that means you beat three good teams,” Fennelly said. “All three are good teams. We’ve had a lot of good teams here that can’t say they swept the in-state schools, so it is something we’re very, very proud of.”