Iowa State has succeeded this season when Hallie Christofferson and Chelsea Poppens score, Nikki Moody distributes the ball and the team gets to the free-throw line.
Gonzaga has struggled this season when its field-goal attempts won’t drop.
Unfortunately for the faithful Gonzaga fans at McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday afternoon, Iowa State conjured up its winning formula and Gonzaga failed to find its shooting touch.
Christofferson and Poppens combined for 37 points, Moody had 11 assists and the Cyclones (24-8) shot 17 of 18 from the line during a 72-60 win over Gonzaga to open the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Gonzaga (27-6) shot 23 for 71 (32 percent) from the floor to end two streaks: 15 consecutive wins and three consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. GU shot 33 percent or less from the floor in five of its six losses.
“When you’re playing teams like Iowa State or anybody else in the NCAA tournament, those things can’t happen,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “You have to step up and make shots and make plays. That’s what good teams do and that’s what Iowa State did tonight.”
Iowa State will meet Georgia at 6:30 p.m. Monday at McCarthey for a berth to next weekend’s Sweet 16 at the Arena.
Gonzaga put its focus into a swarming defense that forced Iowa State into 23 turnovers. The strategy kept the Bulldogs in the game until the final 1:38, when the Cyclones hit 10 of 10 from the line to seal the win.
“For the people who have not seen us, we are not the most aesthetic thing to watch sometimes, and we drive our fans crazy because we do turn the ball over,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “But our kids understand what they need to do, and we’ve always told them, embrace who you are, don’t apologize for what you’re not.”
Iowa State held slim leads for most of the first half. Brynn Williamson hit four 3-pointers in the half, including one that gave the Cyclones a 31-24 lead with 3:52 left.
Gonzaga responded with a 7-0 run for a tie, punctuated by Haiden Palmer’s steal and layup and Taelor Karr’s 3-pointer, but Williamson ended the half with another 3-pointer.
“We did a really good job of having players attack the zone,” Williamson said. “I was getting open looks and other girls were getting open looks on the perimeter and we were able to hit those shots.”
Poppens made two layups during a 6-0 run to open the second half for a 40-31 lead. Gonzaga played catch-up the rest of the way.
GU twice came within three points and gave the crowd once last sense of hope when Shaniqua Nilles hit two free throws with 2:53 left to cut the Cyclones’ lead to 62-57. But the Cyclones, the best free-throw shooting team in the nation, didn’t miss down the stretch.
Gonzaga 6-foot-5 post Shelby Cheslek picked up her second foul 3:26 into the game and only played 5 minutes. Her backup, Stephanie Golden, also fell into foul trouble midway through the second half. Freshman forward Kiara Kudron responded by scoring a career-high nine points in 28 minutes.
Palmer had 10 steals, a team record in the tournament, and scored 14 points while shooting 6 of 21 from the floor. Karr, ending her GU career, had team highs of four 3-pointers, 15 points and seven rebounds.
“You have to give Iowa State credit,” Karr said. “They are a good team to go out on and I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates.”
“I’m really going to miss (Karr) but, boy, she taught those young kids what it’s like to be a winner and what it’s like to play hard and what it’s like to play with class,” Graves said.
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