Iowa State has made a habit of digging out of holes this season, but on Friday night, the Cyclones found themselves in a hole that was simply too deep. Falling behind by as many as 17 points, Iowa State staged a furious rally as they've often done, cutting UConn's lead to only four points with 1:49 remaining, but the Huskies managed to hold on and come away with an 81-76 win.
A hot shooting first half by UConn allowed the Huskies to take a 10-point lead into the break, bolstered by a 7-12 performance from deep. Shabazz Napier hit his first four treys and Iowa State simply had no answer for defending the perimeter. In the second half, DeAndre Daniels carried UConn and finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds.
Every time it looked like Iowa State was going to cut into the lead, UConn answered. Dustin Hogue had the game of his life, scoring a career high 34 points, but he was the only Cyclone who really managed to get anything going on the night.
Seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, who've carried this Cyclone team throughout the year, left the court unceremoniously, as each struggled in their final performance in the Cardinal and Gold. Kane finished with a familiar stat line of 16 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds, but he shot just 6-18 from the floor and 2-9 from the line. Ejim never managed to find a rhythm offensively, hitting just 3-13 shots as the Big 12 player of the year scored only 7 points.
If you're going to ask the "what if" question, the charity stripe might not be a bad place to start. Hogue and Kane were the only two Cyclones to attempt a free throw, which was surprising given some of the contact Ejim drew underneath, but you can't shoot 6-15 from the line in a Sweet 16 game and expect to win, especially when the margin for error was already razor thin without Georges Niang in the line up.
That being said, UConn deserves a ton of credit for how they played. We talked about just how dangerous this team is when they get it going from outside and that proved to be the case on Friday night. Napier is a terrific player and between him, Daniels and Ryan Boatright, the Huskies have just as good of a chance as any other team in this tournament to cut down the nets.
For Iowa State though, this marks the end of what has been a spectacular and magical ride. As a fan, this season has just been fun, hasn't it? Whether it be the 14-0 start, the Big 12 tournament championship or this Sweet 16 run, this Iowa State team has been enjoyable and satisfying to watch from start to finish. It's going to be painful to say goodbye to this team and especially, to Ejim and Kane, but this program is in phenomenal shape going forward and with what's coming back and who's coming in, Iowa State could be better next year.
We'll get the hype train rolling over the next few weeks, don't you worry, but for now, we're left with the painful images of this outstanding team leaving the floor for the last time (just a little too early if you ask me). An all-timer of a comeback wasn't in the cards on Friday night, but this Iowa State team simply refused to quit and showed more heart and toughness than any Cyclone team in recent memory.
Iowa State finished the year 28-8 and when the dust settles, should be ranked among the top ten. I would have never believed that after Iowa State fell to Ohio State in the tournament a little over a year ago. Well done, fellas. Well done.