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By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
AMES – It may be Spring Break, but the Iowa State women’s basketball team is hitting the books.
It comes with the territory this time of year when you’re one of the top college programs in the country.
On Monday, the Cyclones made the NCAA Tournament for the fifth-straight year and 12th time in program history. Iowa State (22-10, 9-7) will square off against Marist (30-2) in the first round as the No. 7 seed on Saturday at 10 a.m. in Durham, N.C.
“I look forward to (selection day) every day of my life,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Our practice card everyday has March 14, 2011 on it. If you coach, if you play, this is why you do it. This is better than Christmas for me.”
Now, it’s time to figure out the Red Foxes. Iowa State will take a crash course on all things Marist in the next few days. What the Cyclones find out could startle them.
The 10th-seeded Red Foxes are ranked No. 19 in the country and have won 26 games in a row. Marist won its sixth-consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament title on March 7 by steamrolling Loyola 63-45 in the final.
“I don’t think they’ve lost,” Fennelly said. “I don’t know how many in a row they’ve won because every time I get stuff from them, they keep winning.”
Marist boasts the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, giving up a paltry 48.6 points per game this season.
Offensively, senior Erica Allenspach leads the Red Foxes with 14.2 points per game. Corielle Yarde averages 11.4 points.
Luckily, Iowa State has the next few days to study film and put in a game plan before heading to Durham and the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium. Playing in Duke’s home arena is another perk of making the NCAA field.
“They’ll tell their grandkids when they are watching Duke on TV, men’s or women’s, ‘Hey, I played there,”’ Fennelly said.
The Cyclones hope they will play two games instead of one in Durham. If Iowa State tops Marist, it will face No. 2 seed Duke (29-3) in the second round. First up are the Red Foxes, though.
After losing to Kansas State in the Big 12 Tournament, the Cyclones have spent the last few days making corrections in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State – which played in the Sweet 16 last year after making the Elite 8 in 2009 – will need to be more efficient on offense if it plans on making one of its patented postseason runs.
“It’s been kind of different,” point guard Lauren Mansfield said. “We’ve really been focusing on our play (in practice), which is different from what we’ve been doing all season.
“It will be good to have things to focus on in practice, getting the scout team back and focusing on the different details we need too (for Marist).”
Kelsey Bolte averages 16.8 points per game for the Cyclones and was named unanimous first-team all-Big 12. She has now helped guide Iowa State to the NCAA Tournament in all four of her years with the Cyclones.
“Every time she comes back her for reunions or whatever, she can look up at that wall and see banners when she played for Iowa State,” Fennelly said. “I think that’s pretty cool.”
Anna Prins and Hallie Christofferson both average 9.4 points per game for the Cyclones this season. Lauren Mansfield adds nine and Chelsea Poppens 8.6.
Iowa State will need all of those points and more to advance during its annual trip the Big Dance.