AMES — The Iowa State women’s basketball team was practicing at Hilton Coliseum on Monday afternoon, starting to get ready for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The bracket was set to come out on Monday at 6:00 p.m. However, thanks to a blunder by ESPN, the field was released during a men’s tournament special that aired during the afternoon.
The 64-team slate was leaked hours before the selection show was scheduled to air, which meant the team’s selection show party had to be re-scheduled from its original 6:00 p.m. start time.
Head coach Bill Fennelly even derailed his practice to let his team know that they would be a No. 3 seed playing New Mexico State at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday following the conclusion of the first game of the Ames pod.
“Coach [Josh Carper – Director of Basketball Operations] walked by me and said, ‘Coach, we have a problem,’” Fennelly said. “Usually when Coach Carp says there’s a problem, that’s a bad thing. He doesn’t let problems get to me. He said, ‘The bracket’s out. What do you want to do?’ So, I brought the kids together [at practice] and I told them.”
— Cyclone Basketball (@CycloneWBB) March 19, 2019
“I wanted them to hear from us and not walk into [the Selection Show party] and have someone tell them,” Fennelly said.
ESPN issued this statement regarding the premature release of the field.
“In working with the NCAA to prepare for tonight’s Women’s Selection Special we received the bracket, similar to years past. In the midst of our preparation, the bracket was mistakenly posted on ESPNU. We deeply regret the error and extend our apology to the NCAA and the women’s basketball community. We will conduct a thorough review of our process to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.”
The blunder took away what was meant to be a special moment for the Cyclones, who were projected by ESPN’s bracketologist Charlie Creme to be a No. 4 seed when the field was announced.
“I feel bad,” Fennelly said. “It’s incredibly negligent on someone’s part for that to happen. I feel bad for the programs that don’t get this opportunity like they should.”
Nonetheless, the show went on.
Iowa State moved the party to a 5:00 p.m. start at Johnny’s in Hilton Coliseum.
“Our kids handled it great, but we still wanted to do something for our fans tonight,” Fennelly said. “Everyone said no one would show up, that’s why we moved it [to Johnny’s].”
By 5:10 p.m., the room was full and Cyclone fans got to show their appreciation for one of the best team’s Fennelly has had in his 24 years in Ames.
“I think we handled it well, like we always do when things don’t go the way they are planned to,” senior point guard Alexa Middleton said.
That’s part of what landed Iowa State the low seeding.
It could be said that the most recent example came in the Cyclones’ 64-62 road win against Texas Tech down the stretch in Big 12 play.
Iowa State fell behind by seven points with 1:41 to play, before willing its way to a victory that helped them maintain second place in the Big 12 and eventually reach the championship of the conference tournament.
The team’s No. 3 seed is the highest for the Cyclones since they earned the same seeding in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
They have only been seeded higher one time in school history, the year before as a No. 2.
“I was super excited to see our seed and be able to celebrate with my teammates,” senior Bridget Carleton said. “This whole [Selection Show party] environment is so cool.”
As a top four seed, Iowa State will host the first two rounds of the tournament at Hilton Coliseum.
In the building, the Cyclones finished the season with a 16-2 record as well as the top attendance in NCAA women’s basketball.
“We love playing in Hilton,” Carleton said. “Every chance we get to play here… it’s going to be awesome.
Though, Fennelly has seen his share of madness like everyone else has in the tournament.
The home-court advantage is nice, he said, but once March starts everyone is 0-0.
“Getting the top four seed in women’s basketball gives you a home game, obviously, but after that it just means who wears what color of jersey,” Fennelly said. “It’s all about matchups and styles of play. This tournament is so unique in that way.”
After finishing up the conference tournament, the team returned to Ames for a light week to try and get some rest for its players.
Fennelly gave the team last Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday off, as well as Tuesday of this week to try and give his squad a bit more time to recover.
Both Carleton and Middleton averaged over 37 minutes per game in the team’s conference tournament run.
“[Carleton] and [Middleton] needed it in the worst way,” Fennelly said. “I think even Kristin [Scott] and Ashley [Joens] hit a wall a little bit, but especially [Carleton] and [Middleton]. What we ask them to do is hard. I think the time off helps. “
For the Big 12 Player of the Year, however, she’s ready to get things rolling again.
“We’ve been off for a week now,” Carleton said. “That was kind of nice to just mentally reset and get our legs back after playing three games in the Big 12 tournament. It was definitely needed, but I’m ready to go.”
After all, a season ago, the Cyclones weren’t playing in the NCAA Tournament. Carleton was sitting at home in Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Fennelly didn’t even watch the Selection Show.
This year, the Cyclones are spending their spring break practicing.
“You’ve got to be one of those people where your dream is to spring break in Ames, Iowa,” Fennelly said. “Most kids don’t think that way, but we’re going to have [spring break here], and its going to be a great, great time.”