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By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
AMES – Prairie View A&M probably won’t get invited back to the Cyclone Challenge anytime soon.
Teams are supposed to let the host cakewalk through their own tournament. That certainly wasn’t the case on Thursday night. Instead, the Panthers (4-7) gave No. 20 ranked Iowa State (10-2) everything it could handle.
Thanks to Chelsea Poppens’ strong play, Iowa State held on to a 58-50, white-knuckle victory.
“It was ugly, but we won,” Kelsey Bolte said. “We are 10-2, and afterward it’s not going to say anything. We are 10-2.”
Any win is good, but the Cyclones will be able to learn a lot from Thursday’s. Dominique Smith was nearly impossible to guard as Prairie View A&M almost pulled off the huge upset.
A 20-point Iowa State advantage turned into a 51-50 nervous lead behind Smith’s 23 points.
“She’s a quick shooter,” Chassidy Cole said. “Coming off the screens, we got a little confused on when to hedge and when to go under the screens. Mainly, she got most of her shots off the screens.”
Clutching to the small margin, the Cyclones turned to Bolte and Poppens. With the score 51-50, Bolte stepped just inside the 3-point line for two. Bolte – who finished with eight points – had made just two field goals before the jumper.
Despite a 3-for-10 shooting night, Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly credited his senior for having the guts to take the critical shot.
“Obviously, making it is big, but you have to have someone willing to miss it, and be critiqued for missing and taking that shot,” Fennelly said. “We made a decision the last four minutes to run every play for her or (Poppens).”
That means it was Poppens turn on the next possession. Iowa State ran the same play, but this time Bolte faked a shot and dumped the ball inside to Poppens who scored and drew a foul for a 56-50 edge.
“(Poppens) person just ran at me instinctively, and she was wide open under the basket,” Bolte said.
The bucket sealed the victory and Iowa State fans could finally exhale.
Player of the game
Bill Fennelly summed up Chelsea Poppens’ heroics best. What if the sophomore didn’t wear Cardinal and Gold on Thursday?
“(We are) 9-3, and probably getting a call from my boss saying, ‘Better get your resume ready,’ Fennelly said.
“I’m not going to say one kid won the game, but it’s the closest damn thing too it.”
Clearly the most physical player on the floor, Poppens almost single-handedly fouled out two Prairie View A&M players. She wrestled rebounds away from the Panthers on one end and muscled inside for points on the other. Her traditional 3-point play with one minute, five seconds left was the most crucial points of the game.
Poppens huge night finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds.
“Chelsea was a monster in the second half,” Kelsey Bolte said. “We were lucky to have her on our team.”
Grab some bench
Believe it – Iowa State’s bench outscored its starters, 30-28. Credit Chelsea Poppens with most of that disparity, but also Amanda Zimmerman and Chassidy Cole. The Cyclones bench played key minutes in the 58-50 victory.
Besides Poppens’ 18-point effort, Zimmerman notched seven points and Cole pitched in five. Cole also played the entire second half guarding the Panthers’ most talented player, Dominique Smith.
“This is the first time all year when Kelsey Bolte and Lauren Mansfield did not play well,” Fennelly said. “Our bench won the game.”
– Official attendance for the game was 7,552
– Hallie Christofferson scored 12 points in the first half but was held scoreless after the break.
– Lauren Mansfield finished with seven assists. On Wednesday, she became the third Iowa State player to record 10 assists or more in two-straight games.
– Iowa State had 22 turnovers in the game.
Iowa State will play its third game in five days when the Cyclones host Chicago State on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Cougars are 5-7 on the season with a game against Miami of Ohio scheduled for Thursday night.