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Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
Iowa State's Royce White, right, and Scott Christopherson, left, react after the announcement that they will play Connecticut in the NCAA college basketball tournament during a selection show party, Sunday, March 11, 2012, in Ames, Iowa.

AMES, Iowa — Iowa State earned a No. 8 seed for the NCAA tournament and will play ninth-seeded Connecticut on Thursday.

It's the first NCAA tournament bid in seven years for the Cyclones (22-10), who earned an at-large selection after being knocked out of the Big 12 tournament by Texas.

The Cyclones have never faced Connecticut, which won the NCAA title last season. The winner of that game would likely face top-seeded Kentucky on Saturday.

Iowa State celebrated its selection to the tournament with a watch party at Hilton Coliseum. A crowd of roughly 1,500 cheered wildly when the Cyclones' seed was shown on the scoreboard hanging over center court.

For Iowa State, reaching the NCAA tournament ends a seven-year postseason drought marked by the unceremonious exits of two coaches and the perpetually dashed hopes of a fervent, frustrated fan base.

The Cyclones reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2005 and were ranked to start the next season under then-coach Wayne Morgan, but they failed to meet lofty expectations and Morgan was let go. The program had high hopes when it poached Greg McDermott from rival Northern Iowa to replace him, but after four years of fits and starts McDermott left for Creighton, which he led to the NCAA field.

The move to hire Fred Hoiberg, the Ames native and former Iowa State star, was seen as a major gamble given that he'd never coached at any level and had spent more than a decade way from the college game. After suffering through a 3-13 season in Big 12 play a year ago, Hoiberg's plan to reinvigorate the roster with Division I transfers paid off.

Royce White was the Big 12's Newcomer of the Year and a first-team all-league pick, and Chris Allen and Chris Babb have proven to be valuable starters in the backcourt.

Iowa State struggled to gel in non-conference play, and nearly lost at home to lowly Mississippi Valley State before the turn of the year. But the Cyclones turned it on in Big 12 play, winning 12 games and beating a pair of top-10 opponents in Kansas and Baylor

The revival was enough to win over Iowa State's fans as well, as the Cyclones finished second in the Big 12 in attendance.