KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State had a 21-point lead at one point Friday night in its 66-60 win over West Virginia at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
Despite multiple scoring droughts that lasted more than three minutes, the Cyclones managed to survive and advance.
“They’re talented,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “They’re physical. They made some tough shots. West Virginia wasn’t going to go away. We tried to knock them out and we couldn’t.”
After going up by 21 points by way of an 8-0 run out of the gates in the second half, West Virginia charged back.
The Mountaineers got the lead down to 13, then nine and then seven, but every time it got close, Emily Ryan or Lexi Donarski seemed to make a play.
Ryan finished the game with 14 points, with 11 coming in the second half.
“There isn’t a point guard in the country that we would rather have than (Ryan),” Fennelly said. “She’s a winner. All she wants to talk about was that she had five turnovers. She’s amazing and at the end of the game, there’s a reason she has the ball.”
Ryan created ball movement and opportunities every chance that she had, while most of the chances were created by Donarski. The fellow sophomore came up with a number of big steals and blocks that both haulted a WVU roll and created momentum going the other way.
“That’s the (Big 12 defensive) player of the year for a reason,” Fennelly said. “I thought our whole team really defended well down the stretch. They never let West Virginia get into that danger zone.”
Iowa State’s trio of Big 12 first teamers in Donarski, Ryan and Ashley Joens finished the game playing all 40 minutes.
Although he probably wanted to get them a little bit of rest, Fennelly says that’s the plan the rest of the way out.
“They’re not coming out of the game,” Fennelly said. “There’s no load management here. It’s not happening – if they don’t ask to come out of the game, then they’re not coming out of it. We have three outstanding players and we’re trying to win the game.”
That will be something that’s good to hear for Cyclone fans, which heavily outnumbered West Virginia fans at the arena.
For the tournament’s first year back in Kansas City with no crowd restrictions, Iowa State fans brought the house like usual.
“Hilton South is not a catchphrase,” Fennelly said. “It’s real. Obviously we were running on fumes a little bit. It’s a great environment here and it’s something our kids will remember for a long time.”
They’ll remember this one, but the group will need to reset just as quickly.
The Cyclones will return to the court on Saturday to potentially battle a physical team that it lost to twice this year.
“It’s March,” Ryan said. “We’re going to have physical basketball, that’s just something we’ve got to get used to.”
Iowa State will take the court again on Saturday, facing either No. 6 Kansas State or No. 3 Texas in a game where the winner advances to the conference championship. Tipoff is slated for 2:30 p.m.