Women's Basketball

WBB: Cyclones fight to final bell in overtime loss to Stanford

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 24: Emily Ryan #11 of the Iowa State Cyclones drives to the basket past Jzaniya Harriel #32 of the Stanford Cardinal during the first half in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Stanford Maples Pavilion on March 24, 2024 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)


STANFORD, Calif. – Iowa State found itself in the middle of an ambush as Stanford fans filled the vintage barn they call Maples Pavilion for a NCAA Tournament second round matchup.

Fans in cardinal shirts – and not the ones that match Iowa State’s jerseys – filed into the arena as two of America’s most prolific post players got ready to compete. One would score 41 punches on the Cyclones, and despite an 87-81 overtime loss, the Cyclones took the fight to the final bell.

“Yeah, it was a lot of fun,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said about coaching in the marquee game. “It really was. Both teams played hard. Both teams made plays. I think it’s — you know, we talk about the growth of the sport, and I think to see two teams play the game out right way, play hard, a lot of skill, a lot of people that just kept doing things to impact success for their team. So yeah, it was fun. It’s what this tournament is all about. It was fun to watch or kids compete and certainly not as much fun watch Stanford play as well as they did. That’s the nature of that beast I guess.”

For the first time in a long time, Iowa State fans in the crowd were outnumbered – by a lot.

It was perhaps the one environment that the youngsters hadn’t yet experienced, save a trip to or past the second weekend of the big dance. Add in the physicality that the matchup demanded.

“No, it was very physical,” Fennelly said. “I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. You know, we just don’t have enough bodies to sustain that. When Audi got to foul trouble, that’s a problem. That’s the way college
basketball is going. The game is way too physical – that’s just me, no one cares what I think. But it is what it is. We have to play through it better, coach it better. But that’s the nature of the NCAA Tournament especially. So we’ve got make some adjustments moving forward probably.”

That wouldn’t be anything to shy away from for Iowa State’s captain, Emily Ryan.

The veteran started to find open space. Stanford’s defense would put a major focus on Audi Crooks, leaving open some opportunities at deep balls that were there for the taking – Ryan took advantage.

The point guard tallied 36 points on 12-of-21 shooting (6-9 from the 3-point line) with nine rebounds and four assists in 42 minutes on the floor.

“At the end of the day the only number that really matters is the final score on the scoreboard,” Ryan said of her game. “That’s the only one I focus on. I try to do whatever I can for the team to put us in a position to win. Unfortunately, (I) didn’t do quite enough tonight. It’s 100 percent team effort and as a team we just weren’t able to make quite enough plays. So we’re going to take that into the offseason and use it as fire and remember this feeling, bottle it up, so on days we don’t want to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to go do conditioning, we can find that extra motivation to push hard.”

Iowa State would need all of Ryan’s 36 points.

Stanford’s Kiki Iriafen played one of the most complete games of anyone this season, earning 41 points and 16 rebounds while playing over 40 minutes.

“They went to (Iriafen) a lot,” Fennelly said. “She got 30 shots off. We tried to double team a couple times. We tried a lot of different things. But she’s so
skilled. Like you said, she is physical going to the basket. She has a little mid-range shot that’s hard to guard. But she’s one of those kids that in-person was much better than on video. Just a tremendous talent. Just
another in the long line of outstanding post players to play here.”

Throughout the game, the teams would trade punches. Stanford won the tip and scored 16 seconds later, as Iowa State couldn’t find the nylon in the game’s first two and a half minutes.

Hannah Belanger drilled a 3-pointer, extending Iowa State’s streak of games with a made three to 927. Then it was on.

As the crowd got more into the game, the intensity ramped up. Crooks found a bucket near the rim and Stanford’s Cameron Brink would miss a shot to give the ball right back to the Cyclones, as her team was clinging to a 13-11 lead.

Addy Brown made a three to give Iowa State the lead. Less than 30 seconds later, Ryan canned another, and before the first quarter to end the pair had each found one more in the final minute, giving the Cyclones a 23-16 lead.

“Yeah, I think coach prepared us for that before the game even started,” Brown said of the punch-for-punch nature of the game. “We heard it all season. Sometimes you’ve got to keep your hands up and take the hits and stay on your feet. That was kind of our mindset. Like we knew we could compete with that team, and you can’t think about it for too long. It’s next-play mentality. They make a shot, okay, fine. Next play. We’re going to go down, run our offense, hit our shot as well. So just thinking about that.

The teams continued to trade punches, and would have entered the halftime break tied had Emily Ryan not drew a shooting foul that sent her to the line for two of her six made shots from the charity stripe.

That only continued in the second half. Arianna Jackson hit a 3-pointer to put Iowa State ahead by four points, only for Stanford’s Talana Lepolo to hit one in response 26 seconds later.

With 10 minutes to go, each team had 50, and Stanford was prepped to be the first one’s swinging in the fourth quarter.

Hannah Jump hit a 3-pointer to give Stanford a 5-point lead with 8:40 to go. After buckets from Crooks and Brown, Ryan would put down a 3-pointer to tie the game again, with 7:02 remaining.

The two teams would trade the lead six more times in the final seven minutes of the game, and Crooks would draw the foul that disqualified Brink from the game late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we were excited to be in the game and going into overtime,” Brown said. “We had them where we wanted them. We just couldn’t finish it out in the last segment of overtime there. But just – we gave them everything we had, and so we can walk out at least knowing we gave it all we had.”

In overtime, Crooks drew her fifth foul of the night, with 3:42 to play. It was fittingly the first big punch thrown by Stanford in the extra period, and one that paid off down the stretch.

“No, we had to change,” Fennelly said of his gameplan as Crooks picked up fouls. “Audi is our only really legitimate low post threat. Nelly doesn’t score for us on the block. We had to change our offense a little bit and not try and go in the post defensively. We were obviously with Audi in foul trouble a lot in second half and then fouling out early in the overtime – that’s a
problem – but offensively was the biggest difference, because we run
a lot of different stuff when Audi is in the game compared to Nelly. So we did have to make some changes there.”

Iowa State did all that it could without Crooks on the floor – Brown hit a three just after the ejection, giving Iowa State a 74-72 lead with three minutes remaining.

The teams traded blows again, from that score to a 80-78 game that Stanford led with 53 seconds to go.

Addy Brown would make a three to give Iowa State the lead with 31 seconds remaining, but Stanford’s Brooke Demetre quickly quieted the momentum, canning a three 12 seconds later.

Iowa State had a chance to tie the game, but turned the ball over on the last possession it had to make things happen, closing the book on an unsuspecting season.

“I could not be more proud of the way they’ve carried themselves,” Fennelly said. “It’s been a great nine months, one the best seasons of my life coaching. At this point in my career, you didn’t know if you would get this chance, and these guys gave me that chance. I could not be more excited about what they did, how they did it. How they carried themselves. I’m certainly disappointed in the result, but (we will) celebrate what they did. The sad part for me is we don’t have practice tomorrow.”

Iowa State will go through its offseason like every program in the country, and with numerous question marks that will always be everlasting in today’s form of college basketball.

But if there’s anything to take away from a judge’s decision loss in Stanford – it’s the chemistry surrounding the group that went to battle, and that’s a good sign for Cyclone fans.

“The ceiling is limitless in my opinion,” Crooks said. “Nobody thought we were going to be anything – let’s be honest. And here we are going into overtime with Stanford – are you kidding me? So, we have a lot of potential. We have a lot more work to do. This ain’t the last of us. You’re going to see us again.”