Cyclone women expecting boost from home crowd at NCAAs

Published: March 18 2014 | 1:22 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:48 am in

AMES — Iowa State women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly sat alone, relaxed, as the NCAA Tournament he knew his team would be part of for an eighth straight time was announced Monday on ESPN.

Seeding?

Didn’t matter to him.

His stress had already been relieved Sunday when he learned the ninth-ranked Cyclone men’s team would be opening tournament play Friday, not Thursday, thus making a tip-off time conflict impossible.

“That was the most important thing I was worried about last night, was what bracket are they in?” said Fennelly, whose own Cyclones (20-10) earned a No. 7 seed and begin tournament play at 3 p.m. Saturday against 10th-seeded Florida State at Hilton Coliseum. “Now they’re on Friday,so hopefully after the guys win on Friday night and they’re partying on the River Walk (in San Antonio), they’re putting our game on TV Saturday at 3 o’clock during happy hour. That would be good. I’m OK with that.”

That TV-based hope only applies to places far removed form Ames.

ISU, which finished second nationally in home attendance, expects Hilton to be a showcase for fervent women’s basketball support, as usual.

A home court advantage wouldn’t hurt either, as the Cyclones are 10-3 all-time in tournament games played in front of hometown fans.

“They’ve always been behind us up until this point,” said senior ISU forward Hallie Christofferson, a two-time first team all-Big 12 selection. “And I know they will continue to be. It’s really special for us, as well as them.”

Also special: That number eight.

Just 13 teams nationally have played in that many consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

“When there’s something special in your life, you enjoy it, you embrace it,” said Fennelly, whose team could face second-seeded Stanford and former Ballard Huxley player Taylor Greenfield if it gets past the Seminoles (20-11). “Now the challenge is to get ready to play a game.”

ISU’s players will also see a familiar face Saturday.

Florida State’s rotation includes former Cyclone guard Emiah Bingley, who left the program in December of 2012.

But she’s a supporting player.

Christofferson and company will focus on curtailing the production of Seminole standouts such as post Natasha Howard (21.2 points, 9.3 rebounds).

“As soon as I get done with all you guys, we’re going to the office and we’ll figure it out,” Fennelly said about game-planning. “This is the time of year you want to be tired, you want to work long hours.”

Christofferson does, too.

And she can offer an initial read on Howard, whom she met at Team USA tryouts for the World University Games last spring.

“They said it on TV: she’s capable of 20 and 10 any night,” said Christofferson, who averages 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. “She uses her body well.”

The Cyclones — who scored 81 or more points in three of their past five games — are at their best when the shoot the 3-point ball well.

But accuracy must mix with moxie to advance in March, whether home or away.

“It’s who’s going to stand up in the ring and take a hit and say, ‘You know what? I refuse to lose,” said ISU’s Brynn Williamson, who’s made a team-best 62 3-pointers. “‘I’m going as far as I can.’”

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