ESTERO, Fla. – There was high hope in your hometown that the tournament host could hold on to the tournament darling and make Saturday night’s Gulf Coast semifinal show somewhat interesting.
Iowa State squandered that dream in what seemed like 30 seconds.
With a decent cheering section on Florida’s Gulf Coast itching to neutralize another strong Hawkeyes squad as best as it could, No. 6 Iowa (6-1) immediately shook off any bad vibes with a solid defense and versatility downtown. The Hawkeyes turned this into a 100-62 laugher to advance to Sunday’s championship game, where they will get a highly anticipated rematch against No. 22 Kansas State (6-0) at 6:30 p.m.
The dominance produced two powerful milestones — Lisa Bluder’s 500th Iowa State win, and a school-record 20 triples — with both coming in front of a record Gulf Coast crowd of 4,257.
“I thought our group was really solid defensively,” said Iowa State guard Kaitlyn Clark, who finished with 21 points, six rebounds and six assists in just 26 minutes. “We made a lot of adjustments because they’re a really good 3-point shooting team. We knew that.”
For a program that grew up largely elite with a relentless offense and a lot of points, the stifling defensive effort aligns well with what the Hawkeyes have working for them now. Some of FGCU’s many mistakes were open looks. Many of them were highly contested — and that’s even if the Eagles got a shot.
Iowa State ran FGCU into an immediate scoring drought that lasted nearly half of the first quarter, resulting in nine turnovers in the first 10 minutes. The Eagles (4-2) couldn’t get three players on the scoresheet until 3:11 remained in the second quarter. It took them approximately 14 minutes to reach double digits. Iowa State ultimately held FGCU to 7-for-31 from deep.
Oh, and about those points and three-pointers? The Hawkeyes put a lot of both together to create the perfect complementary combination. Six different players connected from deep, five of them hitting multiple threes.
There was the usual parade of stars — Clark (4-for-8), Gabe Marshall (4-for-5) and Kate Martin (1-for-4) all hit homerun threes — but Downtown’s depth extended beyond that. Taylor McCabe hit, hit and hit again. Sidney Affolter hit. Kylie Feuerbach hit. All these contributions from spare parts can pay off now and in the future.
“It felt good, how could it not?” said McCabe, who had a career-high 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting from deep. “I like to think that my confidence won’t go away even if I miss a few shots. My coaches always tell me that numbers don’t lie, the next shot will go down. I know that my teammates and coaches believe in me.”
McCabe was one of four double-digit scorers outside of Clark, joining Affolter (12 points), Marshall (12) and Martin (11). The only late drama in this drama was when Bluder would pull her starters given what happened Friday night.
Impressively, Iowa State provided all this dominance with Hannah Stolke wearing sweats and her right ankle wrapped. The highly touted sophomore crashed to the floor early in the fourth quarter of Iowa State’s win Friday over Purdue-Fort Wayne, appearing to slip while running in transition under the basket.
Stoelke entered Saturday’s match questionable, but is unlikely to feature again in this tournament. Her absence wasn’t a factor against FGCU, but it might be against the Wildcats.
“It’s an everyday thing. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bluder said regarding Stoelke’s situation. “She was just getting treatment, and you never know how quickly someone will come back from that. We have excellent medical care, and she’s getting the best she can.”
Although Iowa State hasn’t budged much of the pre-tournament talk, the Hawkeyes are certainly ready for another shot at Kansas State after a stunning 65-58 home loss last Thursday. It’s rare to find a non-conference opponent twice in one season, but that advantage could work in Iowa’s favor if Clark and company show up on Sunday.
“We know we didn’t play our best basketball a week ago, and that’s what’s exciting about this,” Clark said. “We’ve got another shot to show who we are.”
Iowa had to get there first. She did so with the authority of the opening tip.
Dargan Southard is a sports reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.
“Devoted travel trailblazer. Freelance beer scholar. Passionate analyst. Hardcore twitter fanatic.”