INSIDE GAME — Syracuse's Briana Day eyes the basket as Iowa State's Seanna Johnson defends during Saturday's NCAA Tournament first-round game in Storrs, Conn. The Orange advanced to play UConn on Monday with an 85-65 win. (AP Photo)
SU women get UConn next in rematch of 2016 national championship game
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Syracuse's Gabby Cooper had a feeling she might get a few open shots on Saturday.
Iowa State left the freshman by herself early as it concentrated its defense on the Orange's two biggest scoring threats, guards Brittney Sykes and Alexis Peterson.
Cooper hit five 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes and eighth-seeded Syracuse went on to an 85-65 win over the Cyclones in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
"When the first one went in, it felt too natural," Cooper said. "It was a good day."
Cooper made eight 3-pointers on 15 attempts and her early shooting opened the floor for her teammates.
Sykes finished with 28 points and Alexis Peterson added 25 for the Orange (22-10), who will face top-seeded UConn on Monday in a rematch of last year's national championship game.
"I told Gabby right before the game started, 'You watched from the stands last year us go to the national championship, now you're a part of it," Sykes said. "Now, you have to do something to help us get there."
In fact, Cooper said Sykes hit her on the head in pre-game warmups and told her she needed to break the school's 3-point record. She tied it instead.
Seanna Johnson hit seven of her 10 shots and had 21 points for Iowa State, which finishes its season at 18-13. They Cyclones had won five of their previous six to get into the tournament.
"Three weeks ago this team was left for dead by a lot of people, even people who love us," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly.
Iowa State actually outscored Syracuse 57-52 over the final three quarters, but the game was decided in the first 10 minutes.
Cooper, who came in averaging just under nine points a game, opened the scoring with a 3-pointer as the Orange ran out to a 17-3 lead.
The Cyclones, who shot 38 percent for the game, made just two of their first 18 shots.
They trailed 33-8 after a quarter, by as many as 29 points in the second quarter and 45-24 at halftime.
Cooper's seventh 3-pointer of the game sent the Orange into the fourth quarter leading by 20 points and they kept the Cyclones at bay the rest of the game.
Syracuse made 15 of 29 shots from long distance. Sykes was 4 of 6 from behind the arc.
They also used their pressing defense to convert 18 Iowa State turnovers into 19 points.
Iowa State was making its 17th NCAA Tournament appearance and 10th in the last 11 years. They are 8-10 over that stretch and haven't won a tournament game since beating Gonzaga as a No. 5 seed in 2013.
"It's tough to lose, but we've been lucky to be in the tournament a few times," Fennelly said. "This one means a lot because of how hard it was and the commitment that so many people made."
Syracuse is in its fifth straight NCAA Tournament and ninth overall and has now evened its record to 8-8. The Orange have advanced to the second round in each of past four years.
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said his team's scouting report showed Iowa State would likely play a triangle-and-two defense, leaving the right side of the floor open for Cooper.
"She kept getting those shots and she knocked them down," he said. "That was just big for us. That got everything started. When you have a game plan and you start off and it starts working right away, then you feel good about us. I felt good about our chances."
Syracuse will seek a bit of payback for last season's 82-51 loss in the title game when the Orange take on UConn Monday.
Cooper finished one 3-pointer shy of the NCAA Tournament record of nine set by Purdue's Courtney Moses in 2012.
Redshirt junior Jadda Buckley, who had 11 points in the loss, has elected to forgo her final season of eligibility at Iowa State and end her collegiate basketball career, the school announced after the game.
"We know what we're capable of," said Sykes. "And we're going to fight, throughout the whole six-game stretch."