AMES, Iowa (AP) — Missouri State has become a small-school outlier in an NCAA Tournament largely dominated by chalk.
The Lady Bears are playing like they belong among the giants of the women’s game.
Alexa Willard scored 17 points to help 11th-seeded Missouri State stun third-seeded Iowa State 69-60 on Monday night, becoming the only double-digit seed to reach this year’s Sweet 16.
Abby Hipp had 11 points and Danielle Gitzen scored 10 for the Lady Bears (25-9), who will compete in a regional semifinal for the first time since the Jackie Stiles-led team in 2001. They’ll face Stanford in Chicago after becoming the ninth team in 10 years to reach the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed.
Missouri State had gone one-and-done in its previous four NCAA appearances.
“Wow. That was amazing,” said Missouri State coach Kellie Harper, who won three national championships as a point guard under Pat Summitt at Tennessee. “We did it our way. This is a dream come true.”
Iowa State played much of the fourth quarter within a possession of the lead, only to let Missouri State answer time and time again. Sydney Manning extended the Lady Bears’ lead to 60-54 on a 3, her only field goal of the game, and Willard followed with a jumper.
Gitzen answered an empty Cyclones possession with two free throws, and Bridget Carleton threw the ball away at the 1:07 mark with Iowa State down 65-58. The Cyclones then inexplicably failed to foul Missouri State, allowing the Lady Bears to burn nearly 30 seconds off the clock.
Carleton had 31 points in her final game to lead Iowa State, which shot a ghastly 2 of 17 on 3s and 35.6 percent overall.
“They deserved to win the game,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said of Missouri State. “I knew this moment was coming at some point. It doesn’t make it any easier.”
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Missouri State went on a 10-2 run to open the second half that gave the Lady Bears a 43-32 lead midway through the third quarter.
Finally faced with the idea that their Cyclones were in trouble, Iowa State’s fans got into the act. The Cyclones followed, reeling off nine quick points to make it a one-possession game. But a crucial 3 by Willard helped Missouri State push its lead to 49-45 entering the final quarter.
It might have seemed as though a game-deciding run was inevitable in the fourth quarter for the Cyclones. But it was the Lady Bears, fresh off a dominant win over sixth-seeded DePaul, who took control when it mattered.
The jubilant Bears ran into the crowd to celebrate with their band after the final horn, and a few of them picked up Harper’s son in celebration while screaming, “We’re going to Chicago!”
THE BIG PICTURE
Iowa State: The Cyclones fell a game shy of matching the school record for wins in a season. This was a brutal way to end the year, but it was still a remarkable turnaround for a program that bottomed out at 14-17 a year ago.
Missouri State: The Lady Bears have beaten three straight ranked opponents — Drake, DePaul and Iowa State — in road or neutral games. They’ll be underdogs the rest of the way, but Missouri State is much more dangerous than its mid-major backstory might suggest. Iowa State was just the fifth opponent in 34 tries to outrebound the Bears, and even then it was just 38-37.
ANATOMY OF AN UPSET
Missouri State went 12 of 14 from the line and 7 of 18 on 3s. The Lady Bears entered play at just 33.6 percent from beyond the arc. … Missouri State forced 13 turnovers and led for over 36 minutes. … Iowa State got field goals from just four players: Carleton, Ashley Joens and Alexa Middleton (9 points) and Kristin Scott (8). Carleton, the Big 12 Player of the Year, was 10-of-16 shooting. Her teammates went 11 of 43. … The Lady Bears got 20 points from their bench. All the Cyclones got from their reserves was one free throw by Ines Nezerwa. “A lot of frustration and disappointment that we didn’t play the game the way we wanted to play,” Middleton said.
SHE SAID IT
“Our plan was just to go out and guard. There wasn’t anything tricky,” Harper said. “We’re fortunate they didn’t make some shots tonight. I get that. Part of that was way we played.”
Missouri State moves on to the Chicago Regional semifinals to play Stanford.
Iowa State will look to move on after losing Carleton, who finished her career seven points shy of the school record, and Middleton.
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