March 20, 2009

(AP) - While facing an opponent with a frenetic defense is a concern, a bigger one for 17th-ranked Iowa State might be the continuing recovery of its leading scorer.

The fourth-seeded Cyclones should have senior guard Heather Ezell ready for Sunday's game against No. 13 seed East Tennessee State in Bowling Green, Ky., though she is expected to play with her injured right hand taped.

Ezell suffered a hairline fracture in a practice before the Cyclones (24-8) left for last week's Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City. She sat out Iowa State's quarterfinal win over Texas but came off the bench and played 28 minutes in a 63-57 semifinal loss to Baylor.

The team's 3-point specialist, who averages 11.8 points and has made a career-best 80 shots from behind the arc, scored six points on 2-of-11 shooting against the Bears and went 2-of-9 from 3-point range.

"We're trying to be very cautious with her. She'll play on Sunday, but I don't know if she will start or not. We'll see," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "Any time you sit at all, your conditioning suffers a little bit, and she's making some adjustments with her shot because she has to play with her hand taped up."

After the Cyclones dropped three of four during a late-season slump, Ezell helped her team rebound with four straight victories to end the regular season, averaging 16.3 points over the final three games. Iowa State used that streak for its best finish in the Big 12 in five seasons - a tie for third with Texas A&M.

If Ezell should have trouble, the Cyclones will count on a balanced offense in which all five starters contribute at least 8.1 points per game. Along with Ezell, junior guard Alison Lacey (10.6 ppg) and senior forward Nicky Wieben (10.3) also reached 1,000 career points this season.

The Cyclones also could rely on a defense that's allowed 53.8 points per game, ranking 10th in the nation, to win its third straight first-round game. Last season as a No. 7 seed, they opened with a win over Georgia Tech but lost to second-seeded Rutgers.

East Tennessee State (20-10) has used its defense to earn a second straight tournament berth and second in school history. The Buccaneers are among the nation's leaders in steals per game (12.2) and forcing turnovers (21.6 per game).

On a roster with no seniors, ETSU relies on a trio of juniors - Siarre Evans, TaRonda Wiles and Latisha Belcher. Evans, the Atlantic Sun's player of the year, leads the Buccaneers with 16.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.

Wiles averages 16.2 points and Belcher, the conference's defensive player of the year, scores 11.9 per game.

After a 1-5 start, East Tennessee won 19 of its final 24 but came up short of a second straight regular-season conference title. The Buccaneers bounced back in the Atlantic Sun tournament, beating Jacksonville 58-52 in the championship game to become the first school to earn an NCAA berth this season.

In its tournament debut last season, 14th-seeded ETSU fell to Oklahoma State 85-73.

This is the first meeting between the schools. The winner will face either fifth-seeded and two-time defending national champion Tennessee or No. 12 seed Ball State on Tuesday night.