SPOKANE, Wash. – Through every run and every charge made at his team, Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly never saw panic even when it would seem easy to cave while playing in the NCAA tournament on the opponent’s home floor.
Whether it was Brynn Williamson hitting key 3-pointers or Chelsea Poppens scoring inside, the Cyclones finally found the formula to end Gonzaga’s dominance at home in the NCAAs.
“Our team at times gets a little crazy, like most teams, but I never really thought that they showed that today. … They handled it great,” Fennelly said.
Poppens scored 19 points, Hallie Christofferson scored 11 of her 18 in the second half, and fifth-seeded Iowa State ended No. 12 seed Gonzaga’s run at home with a 72-60 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Gonzaga went 4-0 the past two seasons playing on its home floor at the McCarthey Athletic Center during the NCAAs in reaching the round of 16 both years. Iowa State (24-8) solved beating the Bulldogs thanks to dynamic shooting from behind the 3-point line and an awful shooting performance by the Bulldogs.
Williamson hit five 3-pointers and scored 17 points for the Cyclones, who reached the second-round of the tournament for the first time since 2010.
“It’s huge that we are winning on the road in a great environment like this against a really good team,” Williamson said. “At the end of the day we celebrate this tonight, but tomorrow it’s back to work.”
Taelor Karr led Gonzaga (27-6) with 15 points, but the Bulldogs shot just 32 percent for the game and only 27 percent in the second half. Haiden Palmer was the only other Gonzaga player in double figures with 14 points, but was just 1 of 8 on 3s. She did have 10 steals.
“We missed some shots that we usually knock down,” Palmer said. “They had a little bit of pressure but even the open looks, that just happens sometimes.”
The Cyclones outlasted the Bulldogs despite committing 23 turnovers and having to play before a raucous pro-Gonzaga crowd that crammed nearly every spot of the 6,000-seat arena. They avoided joining Iowa, UCLA, Rutgers and Miami as higher seeded teams who lost to Gonzaga on its home floor in the previous two tournaments.
The Cyclones made up for the turnovers by hitting 3s from deep and challenging Gonzaga’s shots. Iowa State hit nine 3-pointers, including four in the first half from Williamson. Williamson averaged just 8.3 points per game during the regular season, but her outside shooting was critical in opening looks on the interior for the Cyclones.
Her defense was important also, matched up against Karr most of the game. Karr finished 5 of 10 shooting, but struggled to get open looks. Gonzaga was a nearly 43 percent shooting team during the regular season, but they were not immune from slumps. Four times during the regular season, the Bulldogs failed to shoot at least 35 percent at home. They were 1-3 in those games.
The bigger problem to Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves was Iowa State shooting 52 percent and becoming the first team this year to top 70 points against the Bulldogs.
“Our defense was tested and we didn’t pass the test,” Graves said.
Leading by three at halftime, Iowa State scored the first six points of the second half to take its largest lead at 40-31 with 18 minutes remaining, only to go nearly 6 minutes without making a field goal. Iowa State committed another five turnovers and missed five straight shots before Nikki Moody finally broke the drought with a 3-pointer. Karr immediately answered on a backdoor cut while being fouled for a three-point play with 12:04 left to cut the Cyclones lead to 45-42.
Out of a timeout, Christofferson hit a corner 3-pointer, followed by five straight points from Anna Prins and another 3 by Williamson to push the Cyclones lead back to nine. Poppens then scored in the paint, and after a Gonzaga turnover, Poppens scored off a rebound for a 60-49 lead with 7:45 left.
The Bulldogs had one final run left, pulling within 62-57 with 2:52 left after a pair of free throws from Shaniqua Nilles. Following a shot clock violation by Iowa State, Nilles had an open 3 rim off and Christofferson hit a pair of free throws with 1:37 left to push the lead back to seven. Iowa State was a perfect 10 of 10 at the free throw line in the closing minutes.
“You turn the ball over 23 times on the road you usually don’t win those game,” Fennelly said. “It was a very difficult environment. … We beat a really good team in a tough place.”