PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephanie Soares appears to have adjusted well to playing at a higher level of competition, which greatly benefits the state of Iowa.
Soares hit her season-high with 23 points and added 11 rebounds and six blocks as No. 5 Iowa State rolled past Michigan State 80-49 in Thursday night’s semifinals at the Phil Knight Invitational.
Soares, a 6-foot-6 transfer from The Master’s, where she was a two-time NAIA International of the Year, dominated inside, making 10 of 14 shots.
“She’s not there yet, but she hasn’t seen physicality at this level, but she’s getting better every day. Our strength and conditioning coach did a great job,” said Bill Fennelly, Iowa State Coach. “The child likes to play. She plays with a smile on her face and obviously has unique skills for women’s football.”
Emily Ryan added 17 points and eight assists, and the Cyclones continued on despite a poor shooting night from top scorer Ashley Joens, the Big 12 preseason player of the year. Joens averaged 25.5 points but only managed eight.
Iowa State (5-0) started the week in the top five of the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 31, 2001, when the program ranked No. 4, its highest in school history. The Cyclones will have a chance to campaign for a higher placement with a top-10 match against North Carolina in Sunday’s championship game.
Fennelly noted that there will be two matches between Iowa State and North Carolina this weekend, with the two men’s teams meeting in the semifinals of this tournament on Friday.
“They’re a top 10 team for a reason and it’s going to be a big challenge,” he said. “But like I told our kids, you’re playing a great program in an NBA arena for a championship. It doesn’t get much better.”
DeeDee Hagemann led Michigan State (6-1) by 14 points and Kamaria McDaniel added 11. The Spartans played without top scorer Matilda Ekh, who was in her native Sweden on international commitments. The school expects to rejoin the team in time for Sunday’s third-place game. Ekh has an average of 11.2 points.
The Cyclones dominated the first half and took a 37-17 lead at halftime. Michigan State struggled with shooting in the first half, making just 6 shots from 30 and going almost the last seven minutes of the second quarter without a basket. Michigan State missed its first 12 3-point attempts before Stephanie Visscher scored the team’s first in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we defended better than we have all year and that was a fight for us, the full-back. But tonight I felt like we were really good,” said Fennelly.
State of Iowa: The Cyclones have shown they can be more than just Joens offensively. Nine of the 12 Iowa State players who saw time scored a goal. Joens had led the Cyclones as top scorer in three of four games this season.
Michigan State: The Spartans had shot 49% from the field in their first six games, so poor shooting night was an outlier that could be more of an indication of opponent quality. Not having Ekh was a huge loss with their 18 3-point team leaders in the season.
Iowa State: The Cyclones take on No. 8 North Carolina in Sunday’s championship game.
Michigan State: The Spartans meet No. 18 Oregon in Sunday’s third-place game.
AP Women’s College Basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https:/ /twitter.com/AP_Top25