By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
Making a 1,500-mile trek to face a lower-seeded team on its home court would appear to be an unfair burden. Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly isn't worried.
The No. 5 seed Cyclones (23-8) will face No. 12 seed Gonzaga (27-5) on McCarthey Court in Spokane, Wash. The Zags have reached the Sweet 16 each of the last three seasons.
"I don't think the environment will shake our kids," Fennelly said. "I think it will be exciting. You know you're going to play a good team, and in this tournament, you know if you win one or two, you're going to play a really good team on their home court. Might as well do it out of the chute."
One of Gonzaga's players can supply her teammates with a first-hand scouting report. Senior guard Taelor Karr played her first two seasons at Kansas State before transferring. She was the West Coast Conference player of the year.
"I kind of know some of their players still from when I was at K-State for two years," said Karr, who averages 11 points per game and is Gonzaga's top 3-point shooter, making 43 percent of her shots beyond the arc. "They're a great team. They have a great coaching staff. … They have great skill inside and out, so they're going to be a tough test."
Iowa State finished second in the Big 12, the nation's toughest conference. The Cyclones played well in winning two games at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Women's Championship but then was overwhelmed by Baylor in the championship game.
With a victory over the Zags, Iowa State would play the winner of No. 4 seed Georgia and No. 13 seed Montana. If the Cyclones can win Game One, they would then be playing the second-round game on a neutral court.
"We're proud of what we accomplished," Fennelly said. "Now you got to go do it in the NCAA Tournament. Like we said, the format in this event has always been a lot of home courts. And that's good. Our kids would rather go play a great Gonzaga team in front of 6,000 people than in an empty gym somewhere. We're excited about the opportunity."
No. 5 Iowa State (23-8) vs. No. 12 Gonzaga (27-5)
3:15 p.m. Saturday, Spokane, Wash., ESPN2
Coaches: Bill Fennelly, Iowa State; Kelly Graves, Gonzaga.
Why they're here: Iowa State was an at-large selection from the Big 12. Gonzaga won the automatic bid from the West Coast Conference.
Scouting the Cyclones: Iowa State is making its seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cyclones have a veteran trio who set the tone in seniors Chelsea Poppens and Anna Prins and junior Hallie Christofferson. Poppens is the 14th women's player in Big 12 history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. While the 6-7 Prins has averaged a career-high 26 minutes per game. Sophomore Nikki Moody is third in the nation, averaging 7.3 assists per game.
Scouting the Zags: Gonzaga has made three straight trips to the Sweet 16, including an Elite Eight appearance two years ago. Junior guard Haiden Palmer leads Gonzaga, averaging 12.4 points but the Zags have 11 players who average at least seven minutes a game. Senior guard Taelor Karr, who played two years at Kansas State before transferring, was the West Coast Conference player of the year. Karr averages 11 points per game and is Gonzaga's top 3-point shooter, making 43 percent of her shots beyond the arc. The Zags are below-average at the free throw line (62.5 percent).