Iowa State Cyclones guard Hannah Belanger (13) takes a three-point shot over Kansas Jayhawks guard Holly Kersgieter (13) during the fourth quarter in the Big-12 home opening of an NCAA women’s basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Hannah Belanger flicked her wrist and watched the basketball fly before tumbling to the floor in pain.
Iowa State’s senior guard had rolled her ankle while draining a 3-pointer, but officials called a foul, setting her up for a relatively rare four-point play.
“I don’t know if she actually fouled me,” the graduate transfer from Truman State later admitted with a smile.
No matter. Belanger swished the free throw as part of a personal 13-point barrage in the first five minutes of the second half Wednesday as the Cyclones outlasted Kansas, 69-61, before a crowd of 8,929 at Hilton Coliseum.
Belanger finished with a game-high 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting from beyond the arc while scoring the 2,000th point of her career. Her outburst helped ISU (9-4, 2-0 Big 12) outscore the Jayhawks (7-6, 0-2) by 11 points in what proved to be a decisive third quarter that came on the heels of a shaky first half.
“Basketball is so simplistic at times,” said Cyclone head coach Bill Fennelly, whose team trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half. “When the ball is going in the basket, everything’s good. And for us, the crowd gets into the game. I think our players — Hannah obviously has struggled to get the ball in the basket. She’s fighting a little bit of a foot injury, so I think you could tell that it wasn’t just Hannah making shots. It was everyone (being) excited to see Hannah make shots as a teammate. So you have those moments and then you just build on (them) and hang on for dear life because you know they’re coming at you.”
But the 3-point baskets kept coming for ISU, which went 9 of 14 from beyond the arc in the second half after going just 1-for-6 in the opening 20 minutes. Arianna Jackson also drained two 3-pointers during Belanger’s early third-quarter spree and Nyamer Diew sank her only long-range shot off a Belanger steal and assist to start the fourth quarter.
Freshman forward Addy Brown notched her seventh double-double of the season (14 points, 13 rebounds).
“I think I just crashed the boards hard again and hoped that I could get the ball,” Brown said. “My mom gives me a hard time when I don’t rebound very well, so that’s extra motivation to rebound the ball for sure. Shout out to her.”
The Cyclones’ sizzling third-quarter shooting contrasted sharply with a first-half performance that included 10 turnovers rooted lately in indecisiveness. ISU held Kansas without a field goal for a stretch of eight-plus minutes in the second quarter, but could only inch back into the game until Brown’s and-one to close the first half tied the score at 24-24.
“If you’re a Division I athlete, a Big 12 athlete, the hard is gonna be there a lot,” Fennelly said. “So you either find a way, which I thought we did defensively for the most part, or you just find and excuse and say, ‘Ah, it’s not my night.’ That part of it, I think — it’s not just what our team’s about, I think it’s kind of what our athletic department’s about. If you say, hey, we’re gritty. We’re blue-collar — amen, sign us up.”
Case in point, a handful of plays that didn’t make the highlight reel. One — a contested offensive rebound by forward Isnelle Natabou that came during the third-quarter flourish — led to Belanger’s second 3-pointer of the game. Another — point guard Emily Ryan’s blocked shot after the Jayhawks had pulled within two possessions of the lead late — essentially sewed up the win.
“You never know the play that’s going to change the game,” Fennelly said. “and those two plays are not a made shot. It’s not a fancy pass. It’s just, I busted my you-know-what and competed.”
And from there, Belanger could go to work from beyond the arc, whether scoring three points per attempt or four.
“When that goes in, the net is like an ocean and you can’t miss,” she said. “It was a good feeling, for sure.”