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Late run lifts Iowa State over No. 17 Baylor in Big 12 Tournament thriller

Joseph Dicklin
Audi Crooks celebrates after making a goal against Baylor during the women’s Big 12 Tournament game on March 9, 2024 in the T-Mobile Center, Kansas City.

The Iowa State women’s basketball team started its Big 12 Tournament path Saturday with a 67-62 victory against No. 17 Baylor. A hotly contested first half and a trouble-filled third quarter was negated by a late run to seal the deal for the Cyclones.

“It came down to who wanted it more,” freshman Addy Brown said.

Early on, Brown had the hot start for the Cyclones. Brown scored the first seven points for Iowa State and set the tone for her big night as she finished with her 10th double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

Baylor then went on a quick 4-0 run to take a slim lead. As Iowa State ran back on offense, something needed to be done.

Cyclone senior Nyamer Diew nailed a three to put the Cyclones in front after freshman Audi Crooks layed it in for two on the prior possession. Even with the swing in momentum, it swung right back to Baylor as a two-minute drought set in for Iowa State as the teams lacked a big spark.

Crooks launched a three to try and swing the momentum back to Iowa State. The ball bounced around and found its way through, as the Cyclone fans erupted in the T-Mobile Center.

“I got the green light from coach [Bill Fennelly],” Crooks said. “It kind of bounced around a little bit and I’m like ‘Please, please, I want the green light,’ and it went in. I was so excited.”

Crooks would finish as the top scorer for Iowa State with 23 points on 11-for-18 shooting.

Senior Hannah Belanger canned a three of her own the next time down to give the lead back to Iowa State. After one quarter, Baylor and Iowa State were tied at 20.

Iowa State opened the second quarter with trouble on offense as the Cyclones fell victim to a four-minute drought. Baylor had its own problems as well, with a three-minute drought midway through two.

The Cyclone defense stepped up and held Baylor to 11 second-quarter points as Iowa State pulled out to a 36-31 halftime lead. Travel violations and spotty shooting needed to be cleaned up if the Cyclones wanted to maintain the lead.

Baylor brought the press to start the second half. Iowa State had problems breaking it and called a timeout to reset and get a plan in place.

“We’ve seen that press before,” Crooks said. “We just needed to calm down and make the right plays, and once we did that we were able to get the ball across the court and do what we needed to do.”

Out of the timeout, Baylor was ready for what the Cyclones brought out. Back-to-back turnovers were forced and the Bears grabbed some easy baskets.

“They were ultra aggressive,” Fennelly said. “Their press bothered us. I thought we were in the right spots, and I think what happens is, you know, when you get pressed a lot sometimes people run away from the ball.”

The Cyclone defense did what it could to stop the bleeding but surrendered the lead to Baylor 50-48 as the game headed to the fourth quarter.

“We had about four possessions in a row that were awful,” Fennelly said.

Crooks made the first basket of the fourth quarter to tie the game at 50. Over the next eight minutes, Iowa State and Baylor traded scores and the Bears’ lead peaked at six points.

The Cyclones did not let the poor third quarter get to them. Baylor was forced into tough shots in the fourth quarter and shot 3-for-24 combined. The Bears scored one point in the final three-and-a-half minutes.

The brunt of the work was done as a full team effort defensively, but on offense it was senior Emily Ryan who led the charge. The leadership of Ryan was evident all game, especially in the final minutes.

“There was no panic by the young ones, and [Ryan] is always talking,” Fennelly said. “She’s the leader that they need, and they needed her really bad today.”

With 1:28 on the clock, senior Emily Ryan took over. Ryan sank six free throws late and led Iowa State on an 8-0 run to get past Baylor in the witching hour.

“It was huge,” Brown said. “For her to step up to the line and stay calm, keep us calm while having to shoot those free throws is huge.”

Ryan finished her day with 12 points, eight of which came from the free throw line. Ryan’s calm demeanor was not the only highlight of her night, she broke the all-time Iowa State assist record with 10 against Baylor to reach 746 career assists.

“For her to do it says a lot about her. Says a lot about the people that she’s played with,” Fennelly said. “There’s no one that I’ve ever coached that loves her teammates, loves her school, loves her coaches more than her. It’s been an honor for me to coach her.”

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