Cyclones hope for more ‘Hilton Magic’ in Green Bay bout

Cory Weaver

Home-court advantage is seen in very few women’s basketball programs. Iowa State is one of those few, and for a team that was on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, getting to play in front of its home crowd could work to their favor.

The Cyclones started the Big 12 conference season 0-5, but a February surge helped propel the team to the NCAA Tournament, something Fennelly credits the Hilton faithful.

“You need to put someone in the game to change the flow of the game – well we can’t put the fans in – but they seem to have that ability of knowing,” said coach Bill Fennelly. “And that’s something that I’ve noticed about our fans over the years is they know when we need them the most, and that’s happened in this environment.”

The ISU women have never lost a first-round NCAA Tournament game in Hilton Coliseum. That 6-0 first-round record at Hilton will be put to the test on Saturday against Green Bay.

Even though the Cyclones are the higher seed, Fennelly said the ranking doesn’t matter.

“The only thing the seeding does for me is it tells you what color uniform you’re wearing,” Fennelly said in his news conference Friday. “I don’t care what number we are, I just want to be one of the 64.”

The team saw its name across the television screen Monday night during the “Selection Monday” telecast for the 13th time in school history. This time around, the No. 10-seed Cyclones will face No. 7-seed Green Bay on Saturday night in hopes of extending the win streak to seven.

While Lauren Mansfield said she felt a little bit of the underdog mindset, she said they plan to use it in their favor.

“We’ve already heard things that a lot of people expect Green Bay to win, so I think we can use that to our advantage, use it for motivation,” Mansfield said.

The Horizon League champions have seen Fennelly and the Cyclones twice before, most recently in 2010, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Phoenix started the game on a 10-0 run, but ended up falling short 60-56.

Chelsea Poppens said their hustle made it a tight match.

“I just remember that they came in and we didn’t really hear too much about them before that,” Poppens said. “But they came in, they played their hardest, they played their heart out and they hustled every play of every minute and they’re just a tough team to play against.”

Throughout the season, both Fennelly and the players have been quick to commend the fan support they have received at Hilton. In the last Phoenix-Cyclone matchup, Fennelly said the fans played a big role in the close victory and Mansfield added that they help pick them up at the low points.

“The main thing is, when we’re struggling a bit, that’s when they’re at their loudest so that really helps us and just a great advantage for us,” Mansfield said.

Green Bay’s primary weapon will be guard/forward Julie Wojta who is the team’s scoring, rebounding, steal and assist leader. Fennelly compared Wojita to Royce White and added she isn’t someone they can completely stop.

“With her, it’s a situation where we can’t let her go out and score 25 [or] 30 points,” Fennelly said. “She’s going to get whatever she gets and she’s done it for 31 games.”

Both teams share similar offenses but diverse defenses could provide the teetering point needed for one to break away. If it does come down to the final possessions like it did in 2010, Hallie Christofferson said she hopes the team can feed off the fan support to victory.

“Last year, we played over in North Carolina and compared to this year, I’ll definitely take the home court atmosphere and the home crowd,” Christofferson said. “Hopefully, our fans will show up and help us get some Hilton Magic [Saturday].”

The game tips off at 5:30 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum, and will be televised on ESPN2 in Iowa. ESPN2 may cut in and out of the game in markets outside of Iowa.