Crooks' record 40 pts. in tourney debut spur ISU

STANFORD, Calif. — Audi Crooks grabbed the Iowa State nameplate and emphatically placed it on the big NCAA tournament bracket board, into the space for the second round.

She absolutely earned the chance to do so.

“That was so fun, my teammates soaked me in water,” she said, still grinning from ear to ear some 30 minutes later.

The freshman star scored a career-high 40 points — the most by a freshman in women’s NCAA tournament history — on 18-for-20 shooting, and No. 7 seed Iowa State hit all the big shots in the second half to rally from 20 points down and beat 10th-seeded Maryland 93-86 on Friday night.

The 20-point comeback marked the second-largest all time in a women’s NCAA tournament game, trailing only Texas A&M overcoming a 21-point deficit to beat Penn in 2017.

“I thought that was one of the most entertaining games I’ve ever been a part of,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said, praising his team’s poise to charge back. “So proud of our team, ecstatic for them.”

Fighting tears, Crooks shared how she takes a moment before every game to be spiritual, pray and remember her father Jimmie who died when she was 16 in 2021. She committed to Iowa State shortly after that, and Fennelly even went to her favorite Mexican restaurant during the recruiting process although it’s not his favorite fare.

“I’m just grateful, I can’t say thank you enough to the people that I’m surrounded by,” Crooks said. “When you’re surrounded by people that you love, that care about you, that trust you as much as they do getting you the ball, that speaks volumes to how we play as a unit.”

Crooks became just the fourth player in Iowa State program history to score 40 points in a game. Her performance marked the most points in an NCAA debut in the past 25 years and second most in a debut all time.

Emily Ryan knocked down a key 3-pointer with 6:06 remaining and finished with 18 points while dishing out 14 assists as Iowa State kept pounding the ball inside to the ever-reliable Crooks — even when it led to a handful of late turnovers.

Crooks, the program’s first freshman to earn AP All-America honors with her honorable mention selection this week, came in leading the team averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds and became the 16th player to score 40 or more this season. She had 12 rebounds against Maryland.

“She dropped 40 on 20 shots, that’s pretty eye-popping right there,” Ryan said of pointing out the stat sheet to her teammates. “It was a special night for her as well as our team. It couldn’t have happened to a better person. … When we throw it in there she gets it every time.”

Crooks became the first player in women’s NCAA tournament history to score 40 points on 90% field goal shooting, and she tied Brittney Griner for the most points by a Big 12 player in the history of the tournament.

Allie Kubek knocked down all five of her 3-pointers in the first half and finished with seven from long range on the way to a season-best 29 points, and it looked like Maryland might run away from the Cyclones.

Instead, it’s Iowa State (21-11) advancing to play Sunday for a spot in the regional in Portland, Ore. The Cyclones will face either No. 2 seed Stanford or 15th-seeded Norfolk State with those teams playing Friday’s late game at Maples Pavilion.

Kelsey Joens hit a tying 3-pointer with 3:20 left in the third quarter as Iowa State used a 10-0 run to get back in the game, and Crooks’ three-point play at the 2:50 mark put the Cyclones ahead 62-61 before she scored again the next time down.

Kubek’s hot hand from 3-point range got Maryland (19-14) going early from the perimeter and the Terrapins had to try to make things tough on the 6-foot-3 Crooks in the low post as she came in shooting an NCAA-best 58.4% from the floor.

“I would say it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen considering the points, the efficiency, the venue, the event,” Fennelly said.

Maryland made 9 3s in the first half, its most in any half this season — and the 11 total 3s were the Terrapins’ high.

This was a coaching reunion between close friends. Fennelly hired now-Terrapins coach Brenda Frese on his first staff in Ames and she stayed with the program from 1995 to 1999. They posed for a photo before the game.

“It’s awful, Brenda’s part of my family,” Fennelly said of beating his dear friend.

The programs had never met previously — and Frese’s team reached its 14th straight NCAA tournament after an upset of Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament before losing to Nebraska.

“We’re really disappointed and sad for our fifth-year seniors that we couldn’t close this out,” said Frese, whose teams had never lost in the first round during her tenure dating to 2002.

ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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