Higher-seeded Cyclones going to Gonzaga
AMES – Not even a road game against one of the hottest teams in the country was enough scare the Cyclones.
The Iowa State women’s basketball team secured its seventh straight NCAA tournament berth in the early stages of Monday’s selection show, showing up as the No. 5 seed in the Spokane Region with a first-round road game against 12th-seeded Gonzaga slated for Saturday at 3:15 p.m. in the Zags’ hometown of Spokane, Wash.
The winner will face either No. 4 seed Georgia (25-6) or No. 13 Montana (23-7) on Monday in Spokane.
Gonzaga (27-5) has won 15 games in a row since dropping its only West Coast Conference game Jan. 10 against Saint Mary’s College. The Bulldogs won their ninth straight WCC regular season crown and claimed their fifth consecutive NCAA tournament berth by winning the WCC tournament title.
Gonzaga has advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament each of the last three seasons.
“It’s a road game alright,” grinned Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. “We play a lot of tough road games, that’s what this tournament is about.”
The Cyclones are one of only 13 teams in the country to have qualified for at least the last six NCAA tournaments. Iowa State (23-8) was an at-large qualifier after finishing second to Baylor in the Big 12 Conference regular season standings and then falling to the top-ranked Bears in the league tournament’s title game.
Three members of the ISU squad will be making their fourth and final postseason appearance, one that they hope advances out of the first round for the first time since their freshmen campaigns.
“It’s an honor just to be a part of each and every one of those teams that have made it, especially coming from the Big 12 where everybody’s great and everybody’s tough,” said senior forward Chelsea Poppens, an Aplington native. “We’re kind of an older crowd, so (it will help) just being able to understand the kind of atmosphere we’re going into we know what to expect.
“We’re just going to go in and give it our all.”
Poppens, Anna Prins and Amanda Zimmerman were freshmen the last time the Cyclones advanced through the first round. In 2010, the fourth-seeded Cyclones defeated Lehigh and Green Bay in Ames before falling to eventual national champion Connecticut in Dayton, Ohio, in the Sweet 16.
“It’s March, it’s the NCAA tournament, everyone that got in is excited to play, anything can happen and that’s how you’ve got to approach it,” said Prins. “Just being ready every game, you never know what can happen.”
Iowa State has won as many as six games in a row this season, while also losing three times in a four-game stretch. Three of the Cyclones’ eight losses have come against Baylor, the top seed in the Oklahoma City Region.
“To do it seven years in a row is special, I think that’s one thing most people don’t understand how hard it is,” Fennelly said. “This is not something that happens to everybody every year.
“I’m proud of our players, our staff, everyone in that room. It’s certainly a moment for them to celebrate and be excited.”
Iowa State’s celebration won’t last long, however, as planning for Gonzaga begins today. The Bulldogs are led by WCC Player of the Year and Kansas State transfer Taelor Karr, a 5-foot-8 senior guard who averaged 10.8 points per game and led the Zags with 65 3-pointers.
“I appreciate how they do things,” Fennelly said of Gonzaga and head coach Kelly Graves. “They have a loyal fan base, it’s a program that does it the right way, and they’ve had amazing success.
“We know what we’re up against but we’ve played in some really tough environments in our league – at Iowa City, at UNI – so this is not anything our kids are going to be bothered by. When you play in this league you’re going to play against good teams in tough environments, and certainly that’ll be one on Saturday.”