Three Big Takeaways: Ryan’s defense, Aubrey Joens’ spark important in Cyclones’ win

Emily Ryan looks to push the ball into the paint against South Dakota State on Nov. 15.

Aaron Hickman

Picking up a statement win over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits that avenged last season’s 76-69 loss Monday, the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones are now 2-0 heading into Thursday’s game against the Drake Bulldogs.

A mixture of improved offense, sustained defensive intensity and Aubrey Joens’ big performance off the bench provided the Cyclones with the firepower to win in convincing fashion.

Lid off the basket

After shooting 36 percent from the floor and 25 percent from beyond the arc against Omaha, Head Coach Bill Fennelly said he believed the team would improve offensively. And that’s exactly what happened against South Dakota State.

The team shot 42 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point land and went 16-20 on free throws. The team did suffer through some droughts in the first half, but the offense kicked into gear and put things away in the second half.

“I think we got out in transition more,” Lexi Donarski said. “We were able to get stops and rebounds on defense and then push the ball the other way.”

The offense has picked up as the game progresses in both games this season. However, Iowa State has had rough first quarters in both games so far this year, so the team will need to get off to better starts moving forward.

Ryan’s tenacity sets tone on defense

One thing Iowa State hoped to sustain from last week was the high defensive effort the team put in across the board.

Even while struggling offensively against Omaha, the Cyclones only allowed the Mavericks to shoot 33 percent from the floor and 20 percent from three. The story was no different against the Jackrabbits, as the away side only shot 34 percent from the floor and 29 percent from three.

The defense has been paced by Emily Ryan, who is tied for the NCAA lead in total steals and is solely in first for steals-per-game. After tallying a school record-tying nine steals last week, she picked up four more Monday.

Ryan’s tough defense allows Iowa State to get out in transition more often, and she has been great so far this season at turning defense into offense with coast-to-coast runs to the basket.

“Our kids compete defensively,” Fennelly said. “You look at us and we have five guards in the game. We’ve got Lexi Donarski playing at the four. Sometimes you’ve just got to play your you-know-what off and that’s what our kids are doing.”

Aubrey Joens provides spark

At a time when Iowa State desperately needed a big shot to end a run by the Jackrabbits, Aubrey Joens had two of them. Drilling two threes in a row after checking into the game, Joens also played solid defense and was scrappy, fighting for rebounds.

She finished the game with nine points and a career-high nine rebounds in what Fennelly considered her best game at Iowa State.

“She guarded, she made shots,” Fennelly said. “I mean, are you kidding me? The kid got nine rebounds. You look at her and she’s 120 pounds soaking wet, but she’s got the Joens DNA. She loves to compete.”

Fennelly went on to explain that things hadn’t been going well for Joens so far this year, but assistant coach Billy Fennelly had a talk with her at shoot-around and told her to be ready. She was.

Joens’ performance not only greatly helped the team, but it could serve as a confidence booster and jumping-off point for the sophomore. She is already considered to be a dangerous shooter, and adding tremendous defense and rebounding to her repertoire could make her a reliable spark off the bench this season.