Scarlet Knights end ISU women’s season

Matt Gubbels

‘s basketball team gave seventh-ranked Rutgers all it could handle Monday night.

The problem was Rutgers had an answer for every run the Cyclones (21-13) made and the Scarlet Knights (26-6) were able escape with a 69-58 win in front of a mainly cardinal-and-gold-clad crowd of 8,209 at Wells Fargo Arena.

Kia Vaughn, who led the No. 2-seeded Scarlet Knights with 23 points, did most of that damage for Rutgers early and opened things up for her teammates Epiphanny Prince and Matee Ajavon, who showed why they were named all-Big East with their clutch play when Iowa State, a No. 7 seed, tried to fight back in the second half.

“I felt that I needed to set the tone and make the game inside-out,” Prince said. “Once I started scoring I felt they should keep feeding me the ball.”

Juniors Heather Ezell and Amanda Nisleit, who scored 19 and 15 points respectively, tried to lead a team with no seniors on its active roster to a stunning upset, but the Cyclones came up just short for the third time this season against an opponent ranked in the top 10 in the nation.

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, who coached at the University of Iowa for 12 years before heading to Rutgers in 1995 – the same season that coach Bill Fennelly started at Iowa State – has found her return to the state of Iowa profitable. This victory improves her record to 3-0 in what was once her home state. One of those victories was over Iowa State in the second round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament at Hilton Coliseum, and the ISU fans tried to create a similar atmosphere in what could be labeled “Hilton South,” at least for the weekend.

“The fans were major; it was very hard for us to hear,” Stringer said. “Iowa is a great place and the state of Iowa has the greatest people we can find.”

Iowa State led early on after Ezell hit a three on the opening possession, but Rutgers responded with an 11-1 run. The Scarlet Knights, behind Vaughn’s 17 first-half points, continued to stretch their lead to as much as 12 before the Cyclones were able to score five of the last six points of the half to cut the halftime deficit to 39-31. Ezell scored 16 points in the half to keep her team within reach.

“Heather kept us in the game. In a game against a Rutgers, you need a lot of people to play at a high level, and we didn’t get a lot of that in the first half except her,” Fennelly said.

“We tried to get her some help in the second half, but it wasn’t enough.”

With inspired play out of the locker room for the second straight tournament game, the Cyclones were able to cut the lead to four on three occasions, with the last coming at 45-41, but Prince hit two consecutive threes to extend the lead back out to double digits. Prince finished with 17 points, with 11 coming in the second half. Prince’s performance was eerily similar to an upset of No. 1 Connecticut in which she hit multiple clutch shots and scored 27 of her 33 points in the second stanza.

Ajavon, who ended up with 16 points, then took her turn when Iowa State cut the lead to 59-54 with just under five minutes remaining. She banked home a shot to stretch the lead to seven and then found Essence Carson for another hoop.

The Cyclones showed the perseverance they had shown all season, cutting the lead to five once more at 63-58 before the Scarlet Knights were able to put the game on ice from the free-throw line down the stretch. Iowa State missed its final four shots, and with Rutgers making four of five free throws in the final 1:11, the game slipped away.

“They’re a great three-point-shooting team. I am happy that we didn’t try to wear their clothes,” Stringer said.

“They had a size advantage and we used our quick feet to make them uncomfortable.”

This loss ends the season for Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. This season, however, has been a roller coaster for the Cyclones. Iowa State started the season 10-2, but, after injuries to starting post players Nicky Wieben and Toccara Ross, they began to stumble.

At the end of the season, the Cyclones took an amazing run to the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament and a 58-55 back-and-forth heart-stopping victory in the first round over Georgia Tech.

“It’s hard to think your season is over,” Ezell said. “What our fans have done for us this year can not be forgotten, though.”