Photo courtesy of Iowa State athletics communications.
AMES — They shot 17.6 percent from the 3-point line in the first half. They trailed by 15 points at one point without showing any signs of surging back. They blew a 10-point lead with 1:55 to play.
Even so, Iowa State found a way to overcome all of that adversity, beat Auburn 67-64 and earned a spot in the Preseason WNIT championship game that will occur on Sunday at 3:30 in Hilton Coliseum.
“When you look at the stat sheet, there is no way Iowa State should have won this game,” head coach Bill Fennelly said. “But there are things that you can’t measure that aren’t on a stat sheet and our players showed that tonight.”
After losing the 10-point lead in the final two minutes, it was up to Bridget Carleton to step up from the line and sink a pair of free throws with 34 seconds to play and a tie game on the scoreboard.
Though Carleton uncharacteristically missed both free throws, she came up big on the opposite end.
Auburn had the ball with 33 seconds to play before calling a timeout to talk things over.
That’s when Carleton took a charge to give the Cyclones the ball back, hit the go-ahead lay up and then eventually block a shot with 2.7 seconds to go helping secure the Iowa State victory late.
“I’m just glad the two free throws I missed didn’t cost us the game,” Carleton said. “We went on a run. They went on a run, and we ended up crawling back and sneaking one out.”
Carleton credits the fans as a big reason Iowa State came out on top.
It was a late arriving crowd, but the 9,274 fans in the stands provided a great home court advantage.
“They stuck in it,” Carleton said. “They willed us to victory today. That was huge. I don’t think we win this game if we’re not in Hilton.”
Head coach Bill Fennelly: “When you look at the stat sheet, there is no way Iowa State should have won this game. But there are things that you can’t measure that aren’t on a stat sheet and our players showed that tonight.” pic.twitter.com/lvRYfPwaUZ
— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneWBB) November 14, 2018
The crowd really got into the game at the start of the fourth quarter.
After Iowa State had battled back from a 15-point deficit in the first half, they started the fourth quarter with the game tied for the first time since it was 0-0.
That’s when freshman Ashley Joens stepped up to the plate.
At the start of the third quarter, Joens made three straight shots from behind the 3-point line to help put Iowa State ahead by 10 points.
“She was huge for about four minutes,” Fennelly said. “Early in the game, she couldn’t make anything. She hit those three in a row. For us, it opens up the court and gets the crowd in the game. We were all waiting for something to happen. Ashley made it happen and the rest of it kind of followed from there.”
With the near-automatic shooting in the fourth quarter, it opened up the floor for the Cyclones a little bit. It looked like the team had a shot at pulling away and icing it before they could even get to a late game situation.
“That was huge,” Carleton said. “I think that was a difference maker. Being able to get ahead by 10 and all of the sudden they’re worried about shooters on the outside that weren’t hitting in the first half.
Aside from the collapse of the 10-point lead, the fourth quarter was almost everything that Fennelly could have wanted from his squad. The rest of the game, however, was far from it.
Iowa State made just three of its 17 3-pointers in the first half and just nine of 32 shots overall.
If it wasn’t for 3-pointers from Joens and Wise – who were 0-8 combined before making their shots – Iowa State would have been down 15 points entering halftime and at one point trailed by the same amount.
“At halftime, we talked about mainly that we were probably lucky to be in the game,” Fennelly said. “We’re only down nine. When you’re not making shots in basketball, you get so frustrated. Everyone does. Your personal identity is missing shots.”
— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneWBB) November 14, 2018
On Auburn’s side of things, the 6-3 post player in Unique Thompson had already corralled a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double in the first half, and was obliterating the Cyclones on the boards.
It was one of the messiest halves Iowa State will play all season, but Fennelly took the blame for that.
“We wanted to be more aggressive and drive the ball at them,” Fennelly said. “Their defense is really good. It’s hard to simulate and you can’t do it in one day. We weren’t as prepared offensively for this game, and that’s my fault. We tried a couple of things and it didn’t work, but they were doing what I was asking them to do.”
The halftime adjustments worked.
Joens had hit another three-ball early on in the third before Meredith Burkhall had a lay-in to cut the Iowa State deficit to five. Middleton then took a charge and would later find Wise for a three-ball to trim it to two points.
Things started to click. The Cyclones opened up the court and eventually ran Auburn out to a 10-point deficit late and earn the victory.
In the second half, Auburn’s Thompson was held to just three points and four rebounds in a full 20 minutes of playing time.
“We just locked in on D,” Burkhall said. “We came to the locker room and knew she had a really good first half and she was hitting some tough shots, so just stay the course, don’t let her get good position and kill that momentum.”
Iowa State will need to be locked in on Sunday when it welcomes a ranked team to Hilton Coliseum in its toughest matchup yet.
Because of the Preseason WNIT format, Iowa State won’t know its opponent until Thursday night, but it will be between No. 19 Marquette and host-team No. 24 Miami.
“I think the number one thing is, is that we’re playing,” Fennelly said. “We’re playing a great team whoever it is. When you get to play at Hilton against a top-20 team in a championship game, that’s what you sign up for. That’s what I told our kids.”
Iowa State will play either of the two schools at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday afternoon, tipping off at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.