March 27, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - Iowa State has had a couple of big potential obstacles knocked out of the way during its run to the semifinals of the Berkeley Regional.

The good fortune of having two-time defending champion Tennessee and top-seeded Duke each eliminated a game before playing Iowa State came at a price. An even bigger barrier is now in the Cyclones' way: Allyssa DeHaan, Michigan State's 6-foot-9 shot-blocking center.

DeHaan's presence is one of the biggest reasons why ninth-seeded Michigan State (22-10) has been so successful defensively this season and reached the regional semifinals against fourth-seeded Iowa State (26-8) on Saturday night.

The Big Ten's career leader in blocked shots is averaging 3.2 per game this season, anchoring a defense that is sixth in the country in field goal percentage allowed at 34.3 percent.

"The one thing we've done is tell our players that Allyssa is going to block some shots," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "She's blocked them against a lot of players so don't panic when she blocks your shot. Keep playing, don't shy away from it, attack the basket. We'll try to do some things differently but we're more of a finesse team anyway."

The winner of Saturday's game will face the winner of the game between third-seeded Ohio State (29-5) and second-seeded Stanford (31-4) for a trip to the Final Four.

The Cyclones have relied heavily on the 3-pointer, hitting at least 10 in 13 games this season and an NCAA tournament record-tying 16 in a first-round win over East Tennessee State.

But with DeHaan patrolling the middle, the Spartans have held their last 18 opponents to just 23.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. That was a big part of how they knocked off Middle Tennessee State and top-seeded Duke last weekend to become the lowest seed remaining in the tournament.

"They were absolutely committed to not letting up a 3-point shot," Fennelly said. "They were going to allow things on the inside. When you are allowing things on the inside and that inside has to come over a 6-9 player it makes it very hard to score. It certainly has been a core of their philosophy."

DeHaan intimidates opponents as much as she gives confidence to her teammates, who know they can take chances on the perimeter because of the help they have inside. That helped the Spartans hold top-seeded Duke to no field goals and just two points over the final 7 1/2 minutes of a 63-49 victory.

"When our front line breaks down there are not too many people who can shoot over her," Spartans forward Aishia Jefferson said. "It is always good to have a big inside presence when things break down on the outside. She's always there to help us recover."

The Cyclones might have to deal with DeHaan without their tallest starter, forward Nicky Wieben, who is wearing a protective boot on her injured left foot. Fennelly is hoping that Wieben, who averages 10.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, will be able to go on Saturday even if it's in a limited capacity.

If Wieben can't play, Iowa State will start senior Jocelyn Anderson, who has played only 9.1 minutes per game this season.

"No matter who we have, we don't have the height to guard Allyssa DeHaan," Fennelly said. "We're hoping that she can go."

Both teams feel they have a little something to prove this weekend, with some skeptics downplaying last weekend's accomplishments. Iowa State benefited when Tennessee fell in the first round to 12th-seeded Ball State, while Michigan State got its two wins at home.

The Spartans had the good fortune of playing at home against Duke and former Michigan State coach Joanne P. McCallie in the second round. The victory over the coach who recruited many of these players to Michigan State before leaving for Duke two years ago was emotional but the celebration was short-lived.

"We came in the next day and we had a team meeting," DeHaan said. "Coach sat us down and it was just about bringing us down off of our cloud and getting us to realize that yeah what we did was really special and we did something great. But we need to be hungry and not satisfied with what we did, but hungry for more. We put ourselves in a great spot. We have a great opportunity to do something even better."

The Cyclones are in the same situation. They have made it this far in the tournament only three times previously, winning just once to advance to the school's only regional final appearance in 1999.

That team was honored earlier this season and this year's squad hopes to emulate its predecessors.

"We sat and watched during halftime of one of our games as the Elite Eight team was recognized," guard Heather Ezell said. "What they've done for the university and what they've done for Iowa State in general is a huge honor and they'll always be remembered. We'd love to be down with that and be a team just like them."