Lehigh-Iowa St. PreviewMar 20, 2010 - 8:04 PM By LUKE MEREDITH AP Sports Writer
Lehigh (29-3) at Iowa State (23-7), 9:30 p.m. EDT
AMES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa State senior guard Alison Lacey carried the Cyclones all year until a late-season bout with pneumonia raised doubts about her NCAA women's tournament availability.
Iowa State can breathe a little easier now, though, because Lacey is coming back.
Lacey, the Cyclones leading scorer at 16.5 points per game, will start Sunday's tourney opener between fourth-seeded Iowa State (23-7) and 13th-seeded Lehigh (29-3) after missing three games because of the illness.
She won't be 100 percent, and likely be limited to about 25 minutes of playing time against the Mountain Hawks. But the Cyclones are thrilled to have their indispensable star back for what they hope will be another lengthy tournament run.
"I feel better than I thought coming back, just getting my legs and being able to breathe," Lacey said. "It is frustrating at times. But I can't get too frustrated about it, and just hopefully get back in the swing of things in the first game and hopefully come out with a win."
The Cyclones, who will host the first two rounds, reached the regional finals in 2009. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year, but Lacey filled what could have been a leadership void by guiding a team with two freshman starters to their best Big 12 regular-season finish in a decade.
Lacey, a first-team All-Big 12 pick, also averages 6.3 assists per game and has either scored or assisted on a whopping 43.9 percent of Iowa State's points.
The Cyclones sorely missed Lacey's production and leadership while she was out. Iowa State fell at No. 4 Nebraska 60-50 while Lacey sat with a mild concussion on Feb. 17, and it dropped two of its last three - including a 62-59 loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament - while she was laid up with pneumonia.
"When we struggled, it was like everyone kind of looked around and, you're so used to having her with her hands on the ball. She's making the decisions, she's putting people in the right place. And it was kind of like our security blanket," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said of Lacey. "With her back, we can at least go into the game and feel like this is the best team we could have."
Lehigh might be the lowest seeded team in Ames, but the Mountain Hawks have the longest winning streak.
They have won their last 16 games, including a 58-42 victory over American in the Patriot League title game, and set a conference record with 29 wins. But the Patriot League has had a dismal run in the NCAA tournament, with 16 straight first-round losses dating back to 1994.
The Mountain Hawks added to that list with an 85-49 loss to second-seeded Auburn in 2009.
"I think we're definitely coming into this feeling like an underdog. But I think we played that role very well. It's something that we've kind of been used to," Lehigh guard Tricia Smith said.
- LEHIGH: 42
IOWA STATE: 79
Mar 22 12:01 AM
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IOWA STATE: 35
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