Stephanie Soares seems to be adapting very well to play at a higher level of competition, for the benefit of Iowa State.
Soares matched his season-high with 23 points and added 11 rebounds and six blocks as No. 5 Iowa State topped Michigan State 80-49 Thursday night in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.
A 6-foot-6 transfer from The Master’s, where she was a two-time NAIA National Player of the Year, Soares dominated on the inside, hitting 10 of 14 shots.
“He’s not there yet, but the physique at this level is something he hasn’t seen, but every day he’s getting better. Our strength and conditioning coach has done a great job,” said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. “The child loves to play. He plays with a smile on his face and obviously he has a unique skill set for women’s soccer.”
Emily Ryan added 17 points and eight assists, and the Cyclones sailed despite a poor night of shooting by leading scorer Ashley Joens, the Big 12 preseason player of the year. Joens was averaging 25.5 points, but only managed eight.
Iowa State (5-0) began the week ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 for the first time since December 31, 2001, when the program reached its highest ranking in school history at No. 4. The Cyclones will have a chance to defend a higher ranking with a top-10 matchup against North Carolina in the championship game on Sunday.
Fennelly noted that there will be two matchups between Iowa State and North Carolina this weekend and the two men’s teams will meet in the semifinals of that tournament on Friday.
“They are a top 10 team for a reason and it will be a great challenge,” he said. “But like I told our kids, you’re playing a great show in an NBA arena for a championship. There is nothing 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 on national team duty. The school hopes she will rejoin the team in time for the third-place game on Sunday. Ekh has an average of 11.2 points.
The Cyclones dominated in the first half, taking a 37-17 halftime lead. Michigan State struggled to shoot in the first half, making just 6 of 30 shots and going almost the last seven minutes of the second quarter without a basket made. 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’s been a struggle for us, the perimeter defense. But tonight, I felt like we were really good,” Fennelly said.
Iowa State: The Cyclones proved they can be more than just Joens offensively. Nine of the 12 Iowa State players who saw time scored. Joens had led the Cyclones in points in three of four games this season.
Michigan State: The Spartans had shot 49% from the field through their first six games, so the poor shooting night was an outlier that might be more of an indication of opponent quality. Not having Ekh was a huge loss with his team-leading 18 3-pointers on the season.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
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.
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
This story was originally published November 24, 2022 9:33 p.m.