Iowa State women’s basketball set to face Kansas State in Big 12 tournament (LOST STORY)

Iowa State freshman guard Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw attempting a shot in Sunday’s 57-56 win over No. 2 Baylor.

The Big 12 Conference Tournament is finally here, the opportunity for every team to wipe its slate clean from the regular season and prove itself in the postseason.

For the Iowa State Cyclones (18-11, 10-8 Big 12), the time could not be better.

“I’m really happy for everyone who loves Iowa State and loves everything about Iowa State,” said Head Coach Bill Fennelly. “We are playing our best basketball at the best time of the year.”

The Cyclones are coming off one of the biggest upsets in school history as they defeated the No. 2 Baylor Bears 57-56 on Sunday. The Bears won a conference record 58 games in a row, with their last loss coming on Mar. 6, 2017.

With the win over the Bears, the Cyclones secured a first round matchup against the Kansas State Wildcats (16-13, 10-8 Big 12). Iowa State is the No. 4 seed while Kansas State is the No. 5. 

“I told [the players] to look at where we were when we came home from Manhattan,” Fennelly said.  “Kristin was hurt and we had three games to finish the Big 12 season. We could’ve thrown in the towel and given up on the season but we finished it the Iowa State Way.”

The Cyclones won the first game between the two in Hilton Coliseum 73-59 on Jan. 22, but the Wildcats evened the series in Manhattan, Kansas, winning 60-51 on Feb. 26.

After losing the second game to the Wildcats, the Cyclones were sitting at 7-8 in conference play. The NCAA Tournament was going to be tough to sneak into, as they were right on the bubble. But for now, they have no worries of getting in.

The Cyclones came in as a No. 9 seed in the latest ESPN Bracketology.

“This obviously boosted our confidence a lot but we still have to work hard and buckle down and focus on what we have ahead,” said Rae Johnson, guard for Iowa State.

The Wildcats’ attack is centered around Ayoka Lee, the Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

Lee ranks in the top-11 in five national categories including No. 7 in blocked shots per game (3.11), No. 9 in double-doubles (19), No.9 in offensive rebounds per game (4.2) and No. 11 in rebounds per game (11.7). She was Big 12 Freshman of the Week a league-record 12 times this season.

And her impact was shown against Iowa State in the second matchup as she scored 11 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and swatted four of the Cyclones’ shots.

Senior forward Peyton Williams was also a first-team all-conference selection after posting averages of 15.4 points per game and 11 rebounds. Williams used to be the main scorer for the Wildcats, but with the arrival of Lee, she has taken a backseat.

“They are great players so you just have to be able to work around it,” said Ashley Joens. “You can always counter it based on what they are giving you.”

Iowa State’s All-Big 12 selections included Joens (unanimous first team), Kristin Scott (honorable mention), and Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw (All-Freshman Team).

Joens leads the Cyclones in scoring with 20.5 points per game, which also leads the Big 12 and is 11th in the NCAA. Her rebound average of 10.7 per game ranks fourth in the Big 12 and 16th in the NCAA.

She also broke the school record for free throws in a game with 16 against Texas Southern on Nov. 19 and tied Angie Welle for second-most rebounds in a game with 20.

“I think it says a lot about how she is as a person,” Fennelly said. “That kid is one tough you know what, she takes it down low and gets hit but she just keeps going.”

Joens and the Cyclones will look to outscore the Wildcats, as the Cyclones boast the fourth-leading scoring offense in the Big 12 at 72.41 points per game. Kansas State ranks eighth with 68.83 points per game.

But Fennelly said that no matter what, it will be a battle for this Iowa State team.

“It’s a great opportunity to go down there and prove ourselves against a quality opponent to start,” Fennelly said. “We don’t have to wait long at all to get ready to play with the morning start.”

The tip is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Friday. The winner of the matchup will be pitted up against Baylor, the No. 1 seed, in the semifinals on Saturday on 11 a.m.

“We just got to take it one game at a time,” Joens said.

NOTE: The Big 12 Conference is going ahead with both the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments this week in Kansas City in spite of concerns about the coronavirus. The games will be played with only family members and other crucial staff in attendance.