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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones dominate BYU behind strong defense and efficient offense

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Katarina Kotek
Audi Crooks is posting a layup vs. BYU in Hilton Coliseum on Feb. 24, 2024.

AMES – Iowa State played for a greater cause Saturday against BYU. The Cyclones dawned pink trimmed uniforms for the “Play4Kay” game to honor women affected by breast cancer.

Behind a big defensive effort, an offense that could score anywhere and the support from the Hilton crowd, the Cyclones de-clawed the Cougars 74-49.

The win moves Iowa State to 10-6 in the Big 12 with two games left in the regular season.

Guard play leads offense to big night

Out of the gate, Iowa State jumped out with a 7-0 run that was capped off with a three from senior Hannah Belanger. Belanger finished with 17 points and shot 7-for-12.

Along with senior Emily Ryan, who finished with 22 points, and freshman Arianna Jackson with eight points, the guard trio combined for 47 points and 11 assists to lead the Cyclones to a win.

“The three of them, they all guard, they all share the ball and they’re all capable,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said.

Ryan’s 22 points, a season-high, came on 8-for-14 shooting to lead scoring for the Cyclones. Ryan took control in the second half, not only through points but her ability to facilitate the offense was a big key.

When freshman Audi Crooks was double-teamed inside, the guards and Crooks worked together to get the ball where it needed to be.

“I can’t say enough good things about my guards,” Crooks said. “BYU was really, especially at the half, putting an emphasis on the double-team. So I just tried to find the open shooter whenever I could and even when they weren’t double-teaming the guards still did a really good job trying to get me in a good position.”

Shots fell early for Iowa State and that set the tone for the entire night. The Cyclones outscored BYU 20-9 in the first quarter and shot over 55% from the field in the first half.

The Cyclones finished with a 49.2% shooting percentage and went 10-for-23 from beyond the arc. Inside, Iowa State had 30 points in the paint.

“When you have multiple people hitting shots that makes us really dangerous,” Belanger said. “We can hit the three, we can go inside and obviously the midrange tonight was falling. Being dangerous at all three levels no matter who’s scoring is going to be huge for us.”

Stifling defense holds BYU in check

Iowa State had not held an opponent under 50 points all season. Saturday was the first, as BYU was only allowed 49 points.

BYU forward Lauren Gustin was who Iowa State needed to watch out for. Gustin had a good night inside, as she scored 20 points and shot 50% from the floor.

Other than Gustin, the Cougars had trouble getting their offense rolling. The defense from the guards slowed the BYU offense.

“Our scout team is incredible,” Fennelly said. “Those guys, they don’t get enough credit, but the people in our building, they know how important they are.”

Jackson was the big reason Iowa State had a good first half defensively. Her two early steals turned into points, three of which she scored herself in transition.

The forced errors that Iowa State gave BYU did not happen on the other end. The Cougars had 16 turnovers to the Cyclones’ nine, a new season-low for Iowa State.

“Because we didn’t turn the ball over, we got to set our defense. We weren’t always in scramble mode,” Fennelly said.

With the defense set, Iowa State forced BYU into tough shots and took the shot clock down inside single-digits multiple times.The Cougars shot 31.1% in the game and were held under 10 points in the first and fourth quarters.

Audi Crooks breaks all-time Iowa State freshman scoring record

Midway through the first quarter, the Cyclones went on a 7-2 run that saw Crooks score her second basket of the game. This one was a record-breaker.

Crooks broke the all-time Iowa State freshman scoring record with the shot. The previous total was 460, set by Megan Taylor in the 1997-98 season.

“I’m very grateful to be playing with the people that I’m playing with and the staff and everybody here,” Crooks said. “There are a lot of great players that came before me and the fact that my name is now etched alongside them, or above them, or whatever you want to say, that means the world to me.”

In her battle with Gustin, Crooks shot 8-for-12 and finished with 18 points to bring her point total up to 476 on the season. With two games to go, Crooks will have a chance to get her total up to 500 before the Big 12 Tournament.

With nine rebounds added to her big night, Crooks was one shy of her seventh double-double in her freshman campaign.

Fennelly said this record was only the start of what will come for Crooks and her career at Iowa State.

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