KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State overcame a brutally cold shooting stretch in the second half to defeat West Virginia, 66-60, in the Big 12 Tournament women’s quarterfinals on Friday.
The Cyclones had a 21-point lead early in the third quarter. But the Mountaineers chipped away the entire second half, and finally had the lead down to five points with 22 seconds left after a transition lay-up by A’riana Gray. Iowa State shot less than 20 percent in the second half.
The problem was that, as hard as the Mountaineers fought to get back into the game, they ran out of time. Down 56-50 with 4:42 left, Cyclones point guard Emily Ryan had two free throws to make after the media timeout. She made both to push it back to an eight-point game.
When West Virginia answered with a basket, so did Ryan. When West Virginia answered with another basket, so did Ryan.
Then both teams went cold for two minutes before Gray’s lay-up. After two timeouts — one by each team — the Mountaineers fouled the Cyclones’ Lexi Donarski, who made both free throws with 20 seconds left.
After a timeout, West Virginia’s Esmery Martinez nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 64-60 with 17 seconds left. West Virginia took its last time out and then fouled Donarski again. She made the second free throw.
West Virginia came to the other end, missed a shot after which Iowa State rebounded and finished off the Mountaineers.
The Cyclones (26-5) will face either Texas or Kansas State in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski each had 14 points for Iowa State, while Ashley Joens added 13 points. Joens ended up with a double-double, grabbing 14 rebounds. Ryan had five rebounds, six assists and five steals, while Donarski added seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Martinez had a big game for the Mountaineers, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. JJ Quinerly had 18 points and five assists, while Savannah Samuel added 10 points and six rebounds. Gray also had 10 rebounds to go along with nine points.
Iowa State’s first half was defined by the 3-point shot, as the Cyclones scored 27 of their 41 points from distance on 52 percent shooting. The Mountaineers kept up with an exceptional first quarter, down only 21-19 thanks to Martinez, who had six points by then. But, as the second quarter went on, the Mountaineers could not trade 3-pointers with the Cyclones, as they shot 1-for-12 from the arc.
Iowa State tried to nail the game down to start the third quarter, sprinting out to an 8-0 run and building a 49-28 lead. But that didn’t kill West Virginia’s will. The Mountaineers ended the third with a 16-2 run, with an 8-0 run inside of that, and the fourth quarter started with the Mountaineers down just 51-44 and thinking upset.
Iowa State is trying to win its first Big 12 Tournament since 2001 after finishing second in the Big 12 race. The Cyclones’ only losses in league play were to Baylor and Texas, and the Cyclones will likely have to beat both to end their title drought. Iowa State entered Friday’s game as a No. 2 seed in ESPN Bracketology.
West Virginia is unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team. The Mountaineers aren’t even on the bubble as far as ESPN is concerned. But, there is potential for postseason play if the Women’s NIT decides to invite the Mountaineers. West Virginia won four of its last five games before Friday, and did so without their leading scorer, KK Deans, who is out for the rest of the season.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.