PORTLAND, Ore. — Stephanie Soares seems to be adjusting just fine to playing at a higher level of competition, much to the benefit of Iowa State.
Soares matched her season high with 23 points and added 11 rebounds and six blocks as No. 5 Iowa State rolled past Michigan State 80-49 on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.
Soares, a 6-foot-6 transfer from The Master’s where she was a two-time NAIA national player of the year, dominated on the interior, making 10 of 14 shots.
“She's not there yet but the physicality at this level is something she hasn't seen, but every day she's gotten better. Our strength and conditioning coach has done a great job,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “The kid loves to play. She plays with a smile on her face and obviously she has a unique skill set for the women's game.”
Emily Ryan added 17 points and eight assists, and the Cyclones cruised despite an off shooting night by leading scorer Ashley Joens, the Big 12 preseason player of the year. Joens was averaging 25.5 points, but managed just eight.
Iowa State (5-0) began the week ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 for the first time sine Dec. 31, 2001, when the program reached its highest ranking in school history at No. 4. The Cyclones will have a chance to make a case for a higher ranking with a top-10 matchup against North Carolina in the championship game on Sunday.
Fennelly noted there will be two matchups between Iowa State and North Carolina this weekend with the two men's teams meeting in the semifinals of that tournament on Friday.
“They’re a top-10 team for a reason and it'll be a great challenge,” he said. “But like I told our kids, you’re playing a great program in an NBA arena for a championship. Doesn’t get much better than that.”
DeeDee Hagemann led Michigan State (6-1) with 14 points and Kamaria McDaniel added 11. The Spartans played without leading scorer Matilda Ekh, who was in her native Sweden due to national team commitments. The school expects her to rejoin the team in time for Sunday’s third-place game. Ekh is averaging 11.2 points.
The Cyclones were dominant in the first half, taking a 37-17 halftime lead. Michigan State struggled shooting in the first half, making just 6 of 30 shots and went nearly the final seven minutes of the second quarter without a made basket. Michigan State missed its first 12 3-point attempts before Stephanie Visscher hit the team’s first in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
“I thought we defended better than we have all year and that’s been a struggle for us, perimeter defense. But tonight, I felt we were really good,” Fennelly said.
Iowa State: The Cyclones showed they can be more than just Joens offensively. Nine of the 12 Iowa State players that saw time scored. Joens had led the Cyclones in scoring in three of four games this season.
Michigan State: The Spartans had shot 49% from the field through their first six games, so the bad shooting night was an outlier that could be more an indication about the quality of opponent. Not having Ekh was a big loss with her team-leading 18 3-pointers on the season.
Iowa State: The Cyclones will face No. 8 North Carolina in the championship game on Sunday.
Michigan State: The Spartans will face No. 18 Oregon in the third-place game on Sunday.