CEDAR FALLS -- Maintaining faith in the plan to finally earn a win over Iowa State, confidence never wavered within the Northern Iowa women's basketball team Tuesday night.
UNI led throughout the entire second half, coming up with a key late defensive stop on one of the nation's top guards to secure a 57-53 win inside the McLeod Center.
The victory snapped a 15-game losing streak to Iowa State as UNI earned its first win over the Cyclones since Dec. 8, 2002.
"Tonight, all around we were just confident and we knew if we just kept playing our game good things were going to happen," UNI junior Ellie Howell said, after matching senior point guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick with a team-high 17 points. "We had the lead and we knew we just needed to get one stop, get one stop and we were able to do that.
"It's a big deal. We're going to enjoy it for sure. It's definitely not something we take for granted. It's a great program, and to get to play them in the McLeod and get the win is just awesome."
Perhaps it was fitting a defensive play sealed this win for the Panthers.
UNI (1-1) held Iowa State to 13 of 39 shooting over the final three quarters. Returning first-team all-Big 12 selection Bridget Carleton took 14 shots to reach a game-high 18 points, and none of her teammates tallied more than eight.
"They were aggressive," Carleton said. "They played to skill really well. They knew who could do what and we didn't really account for that."
Iowa State (1-1) cut a deficit as large as nine points with 6:48 remaining to two and had the ball under its own hoop with 10 seconds left on the clock.
On the Cyclones' final possession, Carlton received the ball at the top of the key and drove past Heidi Hillyard before Mikaela Morgan switched over on help defense to contest a shot that missed off the glass. UNI's Megan Maahs snagged her crucial 13th rebound and converted a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds on the clock to set the final score.
"We did a really nice job of showing poise, especially down the stretch," UNI coach Tanya Warren said. "We knew the ball was going to be in her (Carleton's) hands and we were going to try and make her make a tough play."
Cyclone coach Bill Fennelly knows it will be crucial to find more balance on offense as the season progresses. In addition to his team's struggles from the field, ISU converted just 9 of 16 free throws.
"Right now we're a team that we're making her do all the work," Fennelly said, pointing to Carleton. "It's pretty simple.
"They (UNI) play with good pace, they understand how they're going to guard. They slow the game down on offense. They make you play both ends of the floor. They're always prepared."
This win marked a major confidence boost for Kirkpatrick and Howell, a pair of veteran leaders within UNI's backcourt who were held out of the team's initial practices as they recovered from injury.
Kirkpatrick put UNI ahead for good with a pull-up jumper late in the first half before Howell found forward Heidi Hillyard for a 3-pointer to give the Panthers a 28-23 halftime lead.
When Carleton's 3-pointer cut Iowa State's deficit to 51-48 late, Howell responded with a timely jumper and later Maahs put back an offensive board to give UNI a 55-51 edge. While UNI was held without a field goal over the final 2:16, it was the defensive play of a team that has held its first two opponents under 55 points that brought home the win.
"We always hang our hat on the defensive end," Warren said. "We feel like we're a little bit longer and more athletic, especially at the guard position. ... This team has a chance to be very, very good defensively -- probably one of our best."
BENCH SPARK: With Maahs, who finished with four fouls, in foul trouble, UNI got tremendous production out of reserve forward Taylor Hagen. The junior needed just 20 minutes to match her career high of 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting. Hagen also found success passing to cutters out of the high post and led UNI with four assists.
"We've challenged Taylor as a junior in her third year in this program to step up and she's done that," Warren said. "She's been consistent every day and you're starting to see the benefits of the hard work that she's put in."
FENNELLY FAMILY REUNION: While Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly had one of his sons, Billy, working alongside him as an assistant on the Cyclone bench, his other son, Steven, was coaching against him in his second game as an assistant on UNI's staff.
"I'm not a really good loser, but it's probably a little easier knowing that Steven won," Bill Fennelly said. "I'm a proud dad. He loves it here. He's in a great spot. Coach Warren and Coach (Brad) Nelson have done such a nice job with him. ... It's an interesting dynamic for sure. It's the family business."