AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State has tied its record for wins in a season, finished a close second to heavyweight Baylor in the Big 12 and had three players named to the all-conference first team.
Now the Cyclones (27-6), the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Greensboro Region, are a win away from their first NCAA Sweet 16 in 12 years. To get there they must beat No. 6 seed Georgia (21-9), which is looking to get to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2013.
The teams meet Sunday night at Hilton Coliseum.
“They call it sweet for a reason,” ISU coach Bill Fennelly said Saturday. “And I mean this sincerely, if we make it to the Sweet 16 or not, it’s not going to take away from what this team has accomplished to me.”
The Cyclones will need to be sharper than they were in a 78-71 win over 14th-seeded Texas-Arlington in the first round. Ashley Joens, their star guard, had a season-high 36 points and 15 rebounds.
But they were shooting 33% from the field and down double digits midway through the second quarter and struggled from the free-throw line all night.
“They’ve got three really good players that can just score all over,” Georgia’s Sarah Ashlee Barker said. “If anyone gets hot, they get hot. But you also saw that last night that they were not hitting shots in the first half, but they didn’t back down. I think that’s something that you’ve got to realize, if you knock them in the face, they’re going to knock you right back.”
Georgia moved to the second round with a 70-54 win over 11th-seeded Dayton. The Lady Bulldogs got 19 points from Jenna Staiti and a career-high 15 from freshman Jillian Hollingshead, who was playing her first game in a month after a knee injury.
The Lady Bulldogs have made 20 Sweet 16 appearances, fourth most behind blueblood programs Tennessee, Connecticut and Stanford.
None of those have come under coach Joni Taylor, who joined Andy Landers’ staff in 2011 and became head coach upon his retirement in 2015. Taylor said it’s important for the Bulldogs to carry on the tradition Landers started in his 36-year run in Athens.
Asked what she wants people to see when they watch her team, Taylor said, “They play hard, they play for each other, they play with their heart and that there are women there who are carrying on a legacy that was created by the people who came before them.”
3-0 VS. CYCLONES
Georgia leads the all-time series against Iowa State 3-0, with all the meetings in the NCAA Tournament. The Lady Bulldogs won the previous game 65-60 in the second round in 2013. That team reached the Elite Eight under Landers.
JOENS’ HILTON FINALE?
Joens, the Cyclones’ all-time leading scorer, likely will be playing her final game at Hilton Coliseum unless she decides to return for a fifth season in Ames.
“In that league, especially in the WNBA, there are teams that we’ve talked to that love her, and there’s teams that we’ve talked to that are not big fans. So that’s what that league is about,” Fennelly said. “But it’s a great opportunity for her, and I’m just glad she gets to play at least one more game at Hilton in front of her fans.”
Joens, Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski accounted for 70 of Iowa State’s 78 points against UT Arlington, and the Cyclones had no scoring from reserves.
Georgia’s bench scored 29 of its 70 against Dayton.
“That’s unbelievable. That’s like really, really good,” Barker said. “And so we’re deep, and that makes us good, because say I’m not playing well, Reigan (Richardson) comes in and she’s playing well, she’s got it. We trust each other, and we want each other to do well.”
SURVIVE AND ADVANCE
The Cyclones’ closer-than-expected game against UT Arlington left Fennelly and his players not quite sure how to feel.
“Relief, survival, whatever,” he said. “I think our kids were a little bit numb after the game, and I think they can relax a little bit more. I thought we were loose enough, and I’m not taking anything away from Arlington. But we did some things that were uncharacteristic of us, and that was due to the moment.”
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