AMES — In its NCAA women’s basketball tournament opener on Saturday, Iowa State was a point away from all five starters scoring in double figures.
That balanced attack just might be the pathway to the Sweet 16.
“When we’re at our best, we share the ball, we’re scoring,” said Iowa State Coach Bill Fennelly, who will lead the third-seeded Cyclones into an NCAA Tournament second-round game against No. 11 Missouri State on Monday at 8 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum. “Everyone has always talked about our team as, ‘All they do is shoot 3s. All they do is shoot 3s. All they do is let Bridget (Carleton) shoot. Well, we made nine 3s and Bridget shot the ball nine times and we scored 97 points. So I think that the team concept of sharing the ball, opening up the court, obviously when you get to this point in the year, balance is a great thing.”
With a win Monday, Iowa State (26-8) would reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010 and tie the school record for wins in a season. The Cyclones have previously won 27 games in a season three times, all under Fennelly (2000, 2001, 2009).
“It would mean the world,” said Carleton, the Big 12 Player of the Year. “We had high goals going into this season and to play two games at home, we don’t want to lose at home, obviously, so that is a goal for us. But obviously it is the next 40 minutes. We need to focus on these next 40 minutes. Missouri State played really well (Saturday), so we’re excited and I think we’ll be really excited, hopefully, if we play well enough to get there.”
Iowa State freshman Ashley Joens played well in her first NCAA Tournament game. The former Iowa City High prep and 2018 Iowa Miss Basketball had 12 of her 14 points by halftime.
“We think about it as another game,” Joens said. “Just go out and play.”
Missouri State (24-9) reached the second round with an 89-78 upset of No. 6-seed DePaul. The Bears also had four players score in double figures, led by senior Danielle Gitzen and junior Alexa Willard with 20 points apiece. 2017 Iowa Miss Basketball Elle Ruffridge from Pocahontas added a career-high 15 points.
Since a 1-7 start to its season, Missouri State has won 23 of 25 games.
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“We knew in the summer that we had a very special team,” said sixth-year Missouri State Coach Kellie Harper, who won three national titles as a player at Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summitt. “And we knew that we were going to have to fight to get them there. We continued to tell our team throughout November and early December that they were good. Our message to them was, ‘You’re good, but you’ve got to do it.’ They hung in there with us. They hung in there and they kept believing.”
Win or lose, this will be the last game at Hilton Coliseum for Iowa State seniors Meredith Burkhall, Alexa Middleton, Ines Nezerwa and Carleton.
“Obviously there is a sense of sadness,” Fennelly said. “When you are a college basketball player and you play basketball at Iowa State … to know that you get to play in this building in front of our fan base, it is unique and it is special in a way that is hard to describe unless you are living it.”
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