ISU banks 8th straight

Qualifying for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament has become second nature for the Cyclones and Seminoles.

Though that doesn’t make another trip to the Big Dance any less exciting for two of the nation’s most consistent attendees as they square off in Hilton Coliseum Saturday at 3 p.m.

The seventh-seeded Iowa State women’s basketball team is making its eighth straight appearance and will host 10th-seeded Florida State, which is returning to the dance for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons, in a first round game.

The winner advances to face either second-seeded Stanford or No. 15 South Dakota in the second round Monday at 8 p.m. in Ames. Both games will be televised on ESPN2.

“If you’re not excited about today, if I have to say anything to you about getting ready for practice, you’re playing for the wrong coach and you’re playing on the wrong team,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “We talk all the time about the next 40 minutes. It might be six games, it might be one game. The next thing you do better be as hard as you can do it.”

The two teams have squared off just once before as the Cyclones defeated the Seminoles 85-70 in the second round of the 2001 NCAA tournament. It was Sue Semrau’s first NCAA tourney appearance as Florida State’s head coach.

Also making a return to Hilton Coliseum is Seminole sophomore guard Emiah Bingley who transferred from the ISU program after appearing in seven games in 2012.

Both teams hit some midseason turbulence after sprinting out of the gates. The Cyclones (20-10) won their first 14 games, while Florida State (20-11) started 14-1. The Seminoles are led by All-ACC First Team selection Natasha Howard. The 6-foot-3 senior forward leads the Seminole attack with 21.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game followed by Morgan Jones (12.1 ppg).

The Cyclones are one of just 13 teams in the nation to appear in eight straight NCAA tournaments and earned their 15th berth in school history – all under the direction of Fennelly. ISU will serve as a tourney host for the eighth time and owns a 10-3 record all-time in the NCAA tournament at Hilton Coliseum.

All-Big 12 first team selection Hallie Christofferson is one of four Cyclones to score in double figures with a team-best 18.6 points followed by second-team honoree Nikki Moody (12.8) and freshman guards Jadda Buckley (10.9) and Seanna Johnson (10.5).

After their undefeated start, the Cyclones saw their tourney streak put in danger when they lost seven of their next nine, before recovering with a 4-3 finish. A No. 7 seed may have surprised some prognosticators but Fennelly couldn’t care less about the number attached to his team.

“I don’t care, I want a seed. I just want a number to the left of Iowa State,” Fennelly said. “I just want to see Iowa State come up on that board. … You’re one of 64 teams playing in the greatest sporting event in the country.”

Stanford (29-3), coming off four straight seasons as a No. 1 seed, earned the school’s 27th consecutive tournament bid and 28th overall. South Dakota (19-13) is making the program’s first-ever tournament appearance.