Hilton magic, ISU's hard work pay off

AMES, Iowa -- Never underestimate the power of Hilton magic, Bill Fennelly's motivational skills, and ... Taylor Swift?

OK, maybe the latter didn't have much to do with it, but it still fit into the narrative of Iowa State's 59-57 upset of previously unbeaten and third-ranked Texas on Saturday.

"It was the best feeling," said Cyclones senior guard Nikki Moody, who had the assist on teammate Seanna Johnson's game-winning layup with 19 seconds left. "I can't even describe it."

Actually, though, it's the kind of stuff that has happened before in Hilton Coliseum during the two decades that Fennelly has been coach here. In that time, Iowa State women's basketball has evolved from irrelevance to something that's a part of the fabric of this community.

After Texas missed three shots in the last 5 seconds -- the last a putback attempt by star Nneka Enemkpali -- the Cyclones and their nearly 8,000 fans could celebrate a victory that will stick in Fennelly's memory.

It was a day for memories, in fact, as several former players -- including one of the all-time fan favorites, Megan Taylor -- attended the game to honor Fennelly in his 20th season in Ames.

During a timeout early in the second half, the alumni came on court to be introduced. Fennelly broke from his huddle to run over to the line of former players and give them hugs.

Fennelly is an unapologetically emotional guy, and after the game, he got choked up talking about the presence of all these "kids" who are now grown women who still feel such a strong connection to the program. That bond is something that seemed to energize the current players, too.

"What we kept saying -- before the game, during the game -- is all of those people who stood out there, and all the ones who couldn't make it and texted me this morning, have done so much for this school and this team," Fennelly said.

"I challenged our players: 'You want to be one of those people that stands out there five or 10 years from now and is as revered as they are.' It was an amazing effort from our team."

"It will be right up there as one of the best days that I've had as a coach." Iowa State's Bill Fennelly

The Cyclones trailed 37-24 at halftime, and they were coming off a disheartening loss at TCU on Wednesday in which they gave up a nightmarish 65 points in the second half. What had been a 44-21 lead for Iowa State on Wednesday ended up an 86-84 loss and a rough couple of days in practice afterward.

Then here Iowa State was against Texas, a team that has defeated the likes of Stanford, Tennessee and Texas A&M already this season, and is known for its powerful inside game. Which is not what the Cyclones are known for now, as they start four guards and a freshman center. And it's not as if Iowa State has a lot of post players to go to on the bench, either.

So what did the Cyclones do? Well, they didn't let Wednesday's disappointment keep them down. They didn't let some of the big shots Texas made in the first half discourage them.

They shook it off. You know, like Taylor Swift sings.

See, that's another thing that happened early in the second half Saturday. A video was shown on the Hilton Jumbotron of the Cyclone players dancing to the ubiquitous pop music queen's "Shake it Off." You know, one of those fun, goofy things teams do to then be played during timeouts.

The fans loved it ... and they loved the 7-0 run that the Cyclones made in the opening minutes of the second half ... and they loved the former players taking their bows. And if you've seen a few of these games over the years in Hilton, you got the feeling something might be happening.

And it did.

Of course, it actually wasn't "magic," right? Not really. The nonmagical explanation was that the Cyclones flat-out earned this. They stuck to their game plan of packing it inside against the Longhorns and forcing them to keep shooting well enough to win. Which Texas wasn't able to do after the break. (The Horns shot 45.5 percent in the first 20 minutes, compared with 21.1 in the second 20.)

"We came out really flat out of halftime," Texas coach Karen Aston said. "I thought the first 4 minutes of the second half would be very telling. I thought we would either put them away or allow them to think they could get back in the game. Which is what we did. Credit to Iowa State."

Aston also commended the school and Fennelly on their 20-year partnership that has meant a great deal to not only this region, but the Big 12 conference as a whole.

There were flaws that Fennelly will be able to find in Iowa State's performance. Like shooting 50 percent from the foul line. And the Cyclones' scoring drought for most of the last 8 minutes of the game.

But that dissection is for later. Saturday was about celebrating what was both plain old hard work -- an Iowa State staple -- and something really special that's harder to put into words.

"It will be right up there," Fennelly said, "as one of the best days that I've had as a coach."