Commentary

FSU crashes party, Stanford's next

Seminoles knock out host Iowa State Cyclones in first round

Updated: March 23, 2014, 1:07 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

AMES, Iowa -- The anticipated -- if you go by seeding, anyway -- battle between "Nerd Nation" and "Cyclone Nation" isn't going to happen.

Oh, the Nerds, er, Stanford Cardinal, are still around; they'll be playing in the second round here Monday night. The Cardinal, the No. 2 seed in the regional that Stanford is hosting, defeated No. 15 seed South Dakota 81-62 Saturday.

But the No. 7 seed Cyclones won't be competing at Hilton Coliseum on Monday. Iowa State, with shooting so cold for most its first-round game Saturday that it could have kept ice cream frozen, won't have the chance to try to stop the Cardinal with "Hilton Magic."

[+] EnlargeNatasha Howard, Seanna Johnson
AP Photo/Nati HarnikFlorida State's Natasha Howard comes up big with a block of a shot by Iowa State's Seanna Johnson.

The Cyclones fell 55-44 to No. 10 Florida State, an upset that turns Hilton into a neutral court for Monday's game between Stanford and the Seminoles. Unfortunately, it may also turn the building into somewhat of a ghost town.

Then again, knowing Iowa State fans, at least some of them dutifully will show up for Stanford-FSU, even though their hearts will still be heavy after Saturday's loss, which ended senior starter Hallie Christofferson's Cyclone career.

But Florida State seniors Natasha Howard and Cheetah Delgado move on. Both had 10 points to lead the Seminoles, with Howard adding 13 rebounds. If you'd been told before the game that Howard -- one of the ACC's best scorers who entered the NCAA tournament averaging 21.2 points -- would have just 10 against Iowa State, you would have figured the Cyclones were celebrating Saturday.

However, the Seminoles committed to their zone defense and rebounded very well out of it -- they won the board battle 44-30 -- and Iowa State couldn't ever get any rhythm offensively.

"They do so many nice things, but they don't play against the zone as much," Florida State coach Sue Semrau said of the Cyclones. "You think, 'Ah, shooters -- don't zone 'em.' Well, that's all we've got."

Saturday, it was plenty good enough. Iowa State shot 17.9 percent from the field in the first half, and didn't ever really thaw, finishing at 25.4 percent.

When the NCAA bracket came out, Stanford had to be a bit concerned with this trip to the Heartland. After all, Iowa State has had one of the top-drawing women's basketball programs for many years now. It can be brutal on opponents. Saturday, however "Hilton Magic" almost seemed to put a hex on the Cyclones.

"I thought Iowa State seemed to miss shots that a lot of those kids make in their sleep," said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, who scouted that game before her Cardinal played South Dakota. "I think they wanted to please their crowd so much -- and I've seen this happen actually with our team sometimes -- but I thought [the Cyclones] were trying so hard, but they were just not making shots that they routinely make."

[+] EnlargeChiney Ogwumike
AP Photo/Nati HarnikFSU will have its hands full with the Pac-12's career scoring leader, Chiney Ogwumike.

However, Stanford star Chiney Ogwumike did make the shots she's routinely made throughout her career, and thus there was no chance of a mega-upset by the Coyotes. Ogwumike led Stanford with 23 points, and in the process became the Pac-12's all-time scoring leader, passing former Cardinal star Candice Wiggins. Ogwumike now has 2,652 points.

Ogwumike's parents and sisters -- including Nneka, a past Stanford All-American now with the WNBA's Sparks -- were at Hilton for the milestone, and Chiney said Wiggins sent her a message as well.

Ogwumike is a savvy senior, so she knows to say the right things about credit going to her teammates for finding her. She also gave the wise and diplomatic answer when asked how different Monday's game (6:30 ET, ESPN2) will be now that the Iowa State crowd has been taken out of the equation.

"No matter who you play against, it's about the 10 people on the court," Ogwumike said. "I think crowds can be a factor, but we're very focused on just playing Stanford basketball. We're fortunate to be in the second round, and we will not take that for granted."

VanDerveer acknowledged her team was disappointed to have been upset in the Pac-12 tournament, but that maybe it was a burn the team needed to feel to be ready for NCAA play.

The nature of Saturday's game against Summit League champion South Dakota was such that a lot of Stanford players saw action. Junior forward Taylor Greenfield got a little more playing time than usual because starter Mikaela Ruef hit her head on the floor in the first half and didn't return. VanDerveer said she expected Ruef would be able to play Monday.

Greenfield is a native Iowan from Huxley, about 10 miles south of Ames. Her parents are Iowa State graduates, and she went to Cyclone sports events growing up. She figured when she went to Stanford, she likely wouldn't play near home again ... but here she is. How many friends and family does she expect Monday?

[+] EnlargeNikki Moody
AP Photo/Nati HarnikIowa State's Nikki Moody, left, and Florida State's Ivey Slaughter, right, struggle for the ball during Saturday's game. Florida State held off the Cyclones and their home crowd.

"I want to say close to 100," said Greenfield, who had six points and four assists Saturday. "I never expected this; it's been a huge treat to be back here, especially with this being the NCAA tournament."

Suffice to say, no matter how big the Greenfield contingent is, it won't be hard to get a good seat Monday. Very different than if Iowa State had advanced; there were 6,759 Saturday for the doubleheader, even though a goodly portion of Cylone Nation is in San Antonio with the men's team. It was notable that Semrau started her postgame press conference complimenting how consistent Iowa State's fan support has been now for more than 15 years.

Semrau knows that first-hand; she actually coached her first NCAA tournament game for Florida State here at Hilton, in 2001 against Tulane. The Seminoles won that game, but fell to the host Cyclones in the second round.

"The fans here are phenomenal. I remember 13 years ago when I was here, and it was just like this," Semrau said. "To be able to say over that period that that continued, it's an incredible tribute to this program."

Back in 2001, the Cyclones were the reigning Big 12 tournament champs, led by stars Megan Taylor and Angie Welle. There are programs that have peaks with good players, and their attendance has a corresponding spike. But that's a difficult thing to maintain, especially when -- as is the case at Iowa State -- you typically aren't in on the top tier of national recruits.

Yet Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly has continued to win, and the Cyclone fans have continued to show their support. Admittedly, by Iowa State standards, this definitely wasn't one of Fennelly's top teams. The Cyclones powered through a not-very-challenging non-conference schedule, then started Big 12 play strong and were 14-0 on Jan. 8. But things started getting more difficult for Iowa State, which ended up 9-9 in the Big 12 and entered the NCAA tournament 20-10.

Semrau said she and Fennelly actually had talked at mid-season, when both were dealing with losing streaks and wanted to compare notes on how to cope.

Now, though, it's Semrau's team that will try to slay Stanford, which has made the Women's Final Four 11 times, including five of the past six years.

In fact, the last time the Cardinal did not get at least as far as the Sweet 16 was 2007, when they were upset in the second round by ... Florida State. The Cardinal were a No. 2 seed and the Seminoles a No. 10 seed that year, too, and the game was at Stanford's Maples Pavilion.

"Our kids don't know about that," VanDerveer said of the 2007 loss. "I do, but they don't. It's all about this year's team."

Semrau said she may tell her team about the 2007 win at Stanford, but that it's not relevant other than as some inspiration.

Then again, they should have gotten plenty of that by knocking out the "home" team Saturday.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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