Sports

Maryland can’t stop the bleeding – or Audi Crooks – from the season-ending loss

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA — Audi Crooks took a moment and stood on the sidelines as her teammates warmed up before playing the first NCAA Tournament game of her career Friday night. The Iowa State freshman closed her eyes, put on her shooting shirt and took a deep breath.

She would need plenty of oxygen before she would put on an absolute show at Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus. The All-American Honorable Mention center was a steadfast force for 34 minutes as she scored 40 points on 18-for-20 shooting and added 12 rebounds to lead the No. 7 seed Cyclones to a 93-86 victory, who came from behind over No. 10 seed Maryland.

Crooks fought back tears as she talked about her pregame routine, which included taking a moment to think of her late father. She became the fourth player in program history to score 40 points, three points short of tying the Cyclones’ record.

“Before every game I just try to take a moment,” Crooks said. “I pray and somehow seek advice from my father who died in 2021 when I was 16. I’m just trying to take a second to ground myself and tap into my spiritual side and just know that everything is going to be okay and he got the best seat in the house too.”

Crooks’ big night resulted in Maryland’s first loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament since coach Brenda Frese took over the program in 2002. It was a punch in the gut after the Terrapins had their best first quarter of the season, leading by 20 points just before halftime. Iowa State’s comeback win was the second-largest in NCAA women’s tournament history and kept Maryland (19-14) from reaching 20 wins for the first time since 2003-04.

Maryland couldn’t have asked for a better start to the game. Bri McDaniel set the tone in the opening moments with two jumpers and defensive deflections to rattle the Iowa State offense. Then the threes started falling. First it was Shyanne Sellers from the top of the arc. Then McDaniel. And that’s when Allie Kubek caught fire.

The entire season has been something of a roller coaster ride for Kubek, but she found her range – and her aggressiveness – at the perfect time. She hit five three-pointers in the first half en route to her career-high 29 points and finished the game 7 for 8 from behind the arc. The seven three-pointers were a program record for an NCAA Tournament game.

Maryland’s coaching staff implored the Terps to relax and enjoy the moment at practice this week. “Why not us” was mentioned again and again. Kubek seemed to take this to heart and didn’t hesitate to let the ball fly. Maryland used a 10-2 run late in the first quarter to take a 33-20 lead after the first 10 minutes.

Me and Coach [Frese] “I had a conversation before today’s game about confidence,” Kubek said. “I had a few breaks during the season just because my confidence was down. The coaching staff and my teammates give me confidence every day. And just today I was just hot, so I just kept shooting at them, to be honest.”

Iowa State (21-11) got back within single digits with a 7-0 run early in the second quarter, then Kubek hit two more three-pointers during a 10-0 stretch to extend the lead to 48-29. After the lead peaked at 50-30 with 1:28 left in the first half, the Terps entered halftime with a 52-36 lead.

However, the third quarter was an absolute disaster for the Terps. Iowa State tweaked its defense to keep Crooks closer to the basket and the shots stopped falling. While Crooks was dominant with 18 points in the first half, Maryland kept the Cyclones’ perimeter players in check. That changed after halftime as Iowa State shot 7 for 12 from behind the arc in the second half after going 2 for 10 in the first. Meanwhile, despite Maryland’s best efforts, Crooks seemed to catch every pass for layup after layup.

Shyanne Sellers finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in the loss, while Faith Masonius added 14 points.

He went from man to zone in the second half,” said Frese, who called Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly, one of her mentors, one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the country. “Many things influenced us in the third quarter. Our defense impressed us. I thought they had become much more aggressive. When things started to go downhill, the foul problems we had in the third quarter really took a toll on us with such a short bench.

“We were hoping we would continue to shoot as well as we did, but we haven’t been like that all season. So we really talked about crashing the glass and getting ahead on offense. And for some reason we couldn’t do that.”

It was a bittersweet moment for the two coaches, as Fennelly hired Frese as an assistant coach in 1995. The two remained close over the years and Fennelly referred to her as part of his family several times.

“Terrible, it’s just terrible,” Fennelly said. “Brenda is part of my family. As excited as you are for your players and fans, you look across the bench and their feelings are a little different right now. I know that’s what the tournament is about and it’s a story, but yeah, it was terrible.”

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