Feb 1, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; The Iowa State Cyclones bench reacts during the first half against the Baylor Lady Bears at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
After a one year hiatus, the Iowa State women are dancing again.
The Cyclones (18-12) are the No. 9 seed in the Bridgeport Region and will take No. 8 seed Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Storrs, Conn. on Saturday. The winner of that game will most likely face No. 1 overall seed Connecticut, and its 107-game winning streak, in the second round. The Huskies will take on No. 16 seed Albany in the first round.
Iowa State has been included in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, including a streak of nine-straight that ended after the 2015-16 season. This is the program’s 17th appearance in the big dance, all coming under Bill Fennelly.
The Orange enter the field with a 21-10 record that includes wins over ranked teams such as Michigan State, NC State and Virginia Tech. They most recently lost to No. 13 Duke in the ACC Tournament. This is their fifth-straight appearance in the tournament and the eighth appearance in program history.
Head coach Quentin Hillsman is in his 11th year at the helm for Syracuse and led the team all the way to the national title game last season where they lost to UConn. The Orange’s high-powered offense scores 79 points per game and is largely fueled by the 3-pointer as they’ve attempted 920 shots from behind-the-arc this season at a 30 percent clip.
Senior Alexis Peterson is averaging 23.3 points per game this season and shoots better than 36 percent from deep. The 5-foot-7 guard was named the ACC Player of the Year by Blue Ribbon and shattered her own program record for points in a season by scoring 721 points this year. Her 219 assists, 7.1 per game, have put her five short of matching the program’s single-season record in that category.
Brittney Sykes is the team’s leader in 3-point percentage at 38 percent with 51 makes. The 5-foot-9 guard is the program’s third all-time leading scorer, one spot behind Peterson, and is averaging 19.0 points per game during her senior campaign. She’s also the team’s second-leading rebounder at 8.1 per game and was named to the ACC All-Defensive team.
Senior Bria Day stands 6-foot-4 and is the team’s biggest threat inside the lane. She averaging 13.2 points and leads the team with 9.4 rebounds per game. Notably, she’s snagged 146 offensive rebounds this season, more than double the Cyclones’ leader in the category.
Those three players have combined to shoot 484 free throws this season at roughly a 76 percent clip. For comparison, Iowa State has shot 545 free throws this season as a team. In other words, keeping the Orange off the free throw line will likely be one of the biggest defensive keys for Fennelly’s squad.
Syracuse’s 11.2 steals per game is 14th nationally so taking good care of the basketball will be crucial for the Cyclones. There’s no doubt the game presents a tall task for Iowa State with Peterson, the nation’s sixth-leading scorer, and Sykes combining to be the nation’s highest-scoring backcourt.
The Cyclones and Orange will tip at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN2. You can check out the rest of the bracket right here.