The Iowa State Cyclones didn’t lack for motivation in their 78-71 victory over UT-Arlington in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, on Friday.
The Cyclones (27-6), a No. 3 seed in the Greensboro Region, will face Georgia in the second round on Sunday.
The motivation for Iowa State was tied to its past two tournaments — the Cyclones’ second-round loss to Texas A&M in San Antonio last year and their second-round loss to Missouri State at Hilton Coliseum in 2019, the last time the Cyclones hosted first- and second-round games.
But the Cyclones didn’t get to take out nine months’ worth of frustration out on the Lady Mavericks (20-8). Instead, the Lady Mavericks tried to eliminate the Cyclones on their home floor.
ISU fell behind by as much as 12 points in the first half. While it had come back from two 11-point deficits to win games earlier this season, 12 points had been too much to overcome until Friday.
UTA led 22-14 after the first quarter behind their top player, forward Starr Jacobs, who engaged in a battle with ISU forward Ashley Joens all night. Starr, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, ended up with 19 points and six rebounds for the Lady Mavs.
But Iowa State found a way to win the game late. ISU guard Emily Ryan tied the game at 66-all with a 3-pointer with 5:50 left. Ryan gave the Cyclones the lead with a lay-up on the next possession. Jacobs made a free throw with 4:34 left, and after a minute and a half with no points by either team, Joens drew a foul from Jacobs and made a free throw with 3:11 left to push the Cyclones ahead, 67-65.
Then the Cyclones went to work from distance. Ryan drained another 3-pointer with 2:35 left to push the Cyclones ahead by five points. After Terryn Milton’s jumper cut the ISU lead to three points with 2:07 left, Joens nailed a 3-pointer from the baseline to give ISU a 73-67 lead with 1:43 left.
UTA cut the lead back to four with 1:24 seconds left, but a driving layup by Ryan with 57 seconds seemed to seal the deal.
Ryan and Joens both had huge games. Joens scored 36 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, while Ryan scored 20 points and dished out six assists. Lexi Donarski added 14 points and four rebounds. All three players played all 40 minutes.
Milton had 11 points for the Lady Mavericks, while De’Sha Benjamin had 14 points.
The root of the issue for the Cyclones appeared to be free-throw shooting. Normally one of the best free-throw shooting teams in the country, the Cyclones were just 15-of-26 from the line on Friday, about 20 percent below their team average.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.