A Pretty “Sweet” Weekend for Cyclones Fans

Both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments provided plenty of memorable moments over the opening weekend, but for basketball fans in the state of Iowa — particularly those who wear cardinal and gold — last weekend was certainly a special one. 

How about the Iowa State men’s basketball team and their return to the Sweet 16 for the second time in TJ Otzelberger’s tenure? The Cyclones had little trouble dispatching South Dakota State in the opening round, and then did what they’ve done so often this season — use their defense and timely shooting to dig their way out of an early hole against Washington State and ship themselves up to Boston for the Sweet 16. 

Unfortunately for Iowa State fans, dreams of a first Elite Eight trip since 2000 went up in smoke Thursday night after a 72-69 loss to Illinois. When you look back at the game, the Cyclones dug themselves too big of a hole in the first half with cold shooting and the inability to stop Terence Shannon Jr. and the Illini attack. Even when Illinois did leave the window wide open for a Cyclone comeback, Iowa State just couldn’t get over the hump and the season ended with a thud in Boston.

While I’m sure Iowa State fans are one-thousand percent proud of their men’s team, dare I say the pride for Bill Fennelly’s women’s hoops team may just be one-thousand-and-one percent after their showing in the NCAA Tournament? 

It’s hard to say Audi Crooks is a “star in the making,” because if you know her game and have watched her play this season, you know what she can do. But every star needs a breakout or a breakthrough, and her 40-point game to help the Cyclones rally from down 20 (yes, 20) points to Maryland in the opening round last Friday was truly something special to witness. 

I mentioned “games of the tournament” earlier — and if you didn’t see the Iowa State/Stanford game late Sunday night in the women’s tournament, boy, you missed a true classic. Iowa State went toe-to-toe with the Cardinals on their home floor for four quarters, only to fall short in overtime. While Audi Crooks certainly didn’t have her best game (and neither did her counterpart in the post, Cameron Brink), Emily Ryan was magnificent, and her performance was only outdone by Stanford’s Kiki Iriafen, who’s 41 points powered the home team in the end. Despite the loss, the Cyclone women had a great season, and there’s a lot to look forward to for next season and beyond. 

There’s still basketball to be played, but we all know that time is running out on the season with only four games, at the most, left for those teams still alive. My advice? Enjoy it, no matter who you cheer for. 

Spencer Wagen is the host of “Spencer on Sports,” weekdays from 4-6 p.m. on 1600 ESPN. You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @SWOnTheRadio.