Everyone gets involved as Iowa State moves on in NCAA Tournament

Then-junior guard Jade Thurmon attempts to keep the ball inbounds during the fourth quarter of the game against New Mexico State on March 23, 2019. The Iowa State women’s basketball team won against New Mexico State 97-61 during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Hilton Coliseum.

Spencer Suckow

No madness, no upset, just flat-out dominance.

Thanks to one of its most balanced team efforts of the season, the Iowa State women’s basketball team is moving on to the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 after a 97-61 drubbing of New Mexico State. With the benefit of playing in their home arena and a significant size advantage on their side, the Cyclones thoroughly dismantled from the moment the ball was tipped.

This was somewhat expected, as Iowa State was a 28.5-point favorite coming into the game, but it was still an impressive statement win to begin the tournament — especially when you consider that New Mexico State came into the game winners of 17 straight, and the Cyclones had gone nearly two weeks without a game.

“The NCAA is supposed to be fun, and today was fun,” said Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly. “Phenomenal crowd, phenomenal atmosphere and the best part about it is we get to play again.”

Perhaps most impressive for the Cyclones, however, is the fact that everyone on Iowa State’s roster got into the scoring column. And the team’s regular rotation was just as thrilled as anyone in the stands to see bench players like Adriana Camber, Nia Washington and Lauren Mills get baskets in an NCAA Tournament game.

“In practice, everyone’s in there every day working hard and sometimes the fans don’t get to see everyone reap the rewards of the work they put in,” said senior guard Alexa Middleton. “It’s really fun for us because we see the work that goes in in practice, and for everyone to score tonight, that’s really exciting for us.”

All of that bench scoring was made possible due the insurmountable lead that Iowa State built early on. The Cyclones were consistently hovering around the 50 percent mark in the game in terms of field goal percentage, while knocking down three pointers at roughly a 40 percent clip, and the team’s ball movement seemed to be as sharp as it had been all season.

For as good as the team’s scoring was, Iowa State’s defense was just as much up the task. The Cyclones held the Aggies to just a 27 percent shooting percentage from the field.

Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year Brook Salas had her usual double-double for New Mexico State and Gia Pack added 16 points for, but the two combined to shoot just 11-for-36 from the field as they racked up their points on volume shots. The rest of the team was virtually shut down.

“(New Mexico State is) a really good team at creating their own shot,” said senior guard Bridget Carleton. “They’re good at getting to the pull-up, getting to their step-backs. We had an advantage, we had to use our length to contest our shots. They’re hard shots to guard, so our only hope was to contest them.”

Ultimately, that length proved to be the biggest difference-maker on both sides of the ball. While the Cyclones aren’t Baylor in terms of size, the disparity in height was evident from the get-go, as is usually the case when a Power 5 team plays a mid-major. 

So much so, that the Cyclones out-rebounded the Aggies by a 45-24 margin. That’s not to mention how many shots were altered or rushed on the defensive end, or how many easy looks down low the team got on offensively.

Things probably won’t be as easy on Monday for the Cyclones, as they’ll have to go up against a hot Missouri State team that’s beaten Drake twice and just scored 89 points on Big East champion DePaul in an upset victory.

Iowa State will have the advantage of playing at home in front of a friendly crowd once again, but there should be a sizable contingent from Missouri State, just as there was Saturday, to offset that a little bit. 

In terms of on-court action, Fennelly expects a fast and physical game with a good amount of scoring. From what he saw, Fennelly said he thought Missouri State surprised DePaul with their level of talent and skill, and that the Lady Bears play a similar style to what the Cyclones see from several conference foes.

“It’ll be the kind of game I think we played in the Big 12,” Fennelly said.  “Physical, athletic kids that can do a lot of things. They play a lot of players, and Kellie Harper is a really, really good coach. I think it’ll be a great game.