AMES — The road to the Iowa State women’s basketball team’s first NCAA Tournament win in three years begins…
On the road.
The No. 23 and fifth-seeded Cyclones (23-8) tip off against 12-seed Gonzaga (27-5) at 3:15 today at Spokane, Wash.
The site: The Bulldogs’ or Zags’ (take your pick of monickers) cozy home gym — the McCarthey Athletic Center, which seats about 6,000 and will likely be filled with fervent fans of the blue, white and red.
“It’s a road game, all right,” said ISU coach Bill Fennelly, whose team has endured two straight first-round tournament exits after a pair of deep runs the previous two seasons. “But we play a lot of tough road games. That’s what this tournament’s about. Fifteen of the 16 sites someone’s playing at home. I think that’s good for the end, good for the tournament. … It will be like, probably feel like, coming to Hilton (Coliseum).”
Lots of team have faced that Hilton-based crucible — and Green Bay overcame it last year in a 71-57 first-round win.
The Cyclones have played in 29 tournament games, with all their Big Dance appearances coming under Fennelly.
They’re 11-4 in games played at Ames or Des Moines and 5-9 away from their home state.
It’s ISU’s first trip to Washington — and the journey will encompass both business and pleasure.
“I’m sure I’ll be the typical tourist,” Cyclone first team all-Big 12 forward Hallie Christofferson said.
Not the run-of-the-mill shooter, though.
Christofferson creates myriad matchup problems with her inside-outside game.
She’s averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and ranks 24th nationally in field goal accuracy at 52.4 percent.
“This is what we play for,” Christofferson said. “We play for March.”
Regardless of site, regardless of opponent.
Gonzaga just happens to be riding a three-year Sweet 16 streak.
The Zags started a run to the Elite Eight at home in 2011 as an 11 seed.
Their first-round victim? Then-sixth-seeded Iowa.
“In the last couple years we’ve beaten a two, two threes, a five, two sixes and we’ve had some success,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves told reporters on selection Monday. “So where you’re seeded isn’t as important as who you’re playing and where you’re playing.”
ISU posted four wins on the road against tournament-bound Big 12 rivals, but face a less known quantity in the West Coast Conference champion Zags.
“Loyal fan base, a program that does it the right way,” Fennelly said. “Amazing success. A team that I think likes the high seed, playing at home, beat up on people (situation). So we know what we’re up against.”
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