Iowa State wins scrappy war of attrition to topple West Virginia


Daniel Jacobi II

Izzi Zingaro falls on the ball during the game against West Virginia in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 4th, 2023.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

AMES — It may not have been a pretty win, but in the end, a win’s a win as Iowa State stays undefeated in the Big 12 season, taking down West Virginia 70-50.

West Virginia stifled any Iowa State attempt at pulling away, while keeping the game within reach through the first half. With shots not falling for the Cyclones, the Mountaineers’ scrappiness kept Iowa State in the game.

From the gates it looked like it would be a long night for West Virginia as Iowa State started the game with a 6-0 run, thanks to four points in the paint from Ashley Joens. The quick start for the Cyclones forced West Virginia to call a timeout in hopes to stop the momentum.

That timeout seemed to be the saving grace for West Virginia early on, as the game looked like it might be closer than expected.

“We got up six-nothing, we’re moving the ball, all of a sudden we just looked completely lost,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said.

Iowa State was able to bully in scores in the paint but couldn’t get anything going from beyond the arc. On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers were hitting shots every time they threw the ball up.

At the end of the first quarter, Iowa State was leading by just 1 point. The only thing keeping Iowa State in the front was West Virginia’s fouling tendencies.

The Iowa State bench sits quietly after a slow start during the game against West Virginia in Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 4th, 2023. (Daniel Jacobi II)

From the start, it appeared as though the Mountaineers were going to do anything to win, even if that meant getting chippy.

“The whole chippy thing just drives me nuts. Let’s play,” Fennelly said. “Our kids play the game the right way. I’m not saying other teams don’t, but I’m very proud of the way we play, how we act and how we respect the game.”

By halftime, the Cyclones had knocked down nine free throws to West Virginia’s one. That discrepancy from the line was a big factor in Iowa State staying in the game early on despite cold shooting.

The other factor was Lexi Donarski. It seemed like Donarski was going to have a historic night as her name rang out throughout the entire second quarter.

Although she cooled off after halftime, her efforts before the buzzer couldn’t be ignored. It seemed every time the Cyclones drove the ball down the court, Donarski was driving down the lane before knocking down a pull-up jumper.

The play that finally woke up the Hilton crowd came just after Donarski knocked down a contested three. She drove down the court yet again and put up a one-handed floating shot that hit nothing but net.

That shot put her into double-digits in the point column, the first Cyclone of the night to do so. With Iowa State shooting just 2-9 from three, Donarski’s efforts helped the Cyclones tie the game up going into halftime.

It was only a matter of time before the Cyclones got hot and that time came in the second half. The Cyclones opened up the third quarter on fire, as shots rang in from anywhere on the court.

Joens knocked down a three, followed by a three from Soares. Even Nyamer Diew got some of the action, nailing an early three-pointer. 

“It’s a little bit of a chain reaction,” Joens said. “When you see someone else hit a shot, you kinda get excited. And then another one hits a shot, then your confidence goes up. It kinda flows through the whole team.”

It seemed that the rim, which seemed small in the first half, was bigger than ever.

The shot that was the true nail in the coffin for West Virginia came from Joens. She put up a shot from beyond the arc with a West Virginia defender in her face.

As the shot came back down through the net, the Hilton crowd erupted. West Virginia, who had hung close to Iowa State through most of the game to that point, was scrambling to figure out a way to stop the Cyclones.

The Mountaineers brainstormed, but nothing seemed to stop the Cyclones from continuing to barrel forward. West Virginia had dominated the three-point scoring column early, but Iowa State had pulled it back.

It was all Iowa State in the third quarter. The Cyclones powered to their biggest lead of the night, distancing themselves from West Virginia by 16 points. 

Soares got herself another double-double early in the third quarter, as she neared 20 rebounds. Throughout the game, she had more rebounds than points.

Soares ended the game with 13 points and 20 rebounds. Although some of those rebounds were easier for her to get than others, when it comes down to it, all rebounds look the same on the stat sheet.

“Twenty rebounds is 20 rebounds, in 25 minutes,” Fennelly said. “I wish you guys could see her at practice and how hard she works.”

That hard work paid off big time against West Virginia, as she was a nuisance in the lane the entire night. That dominance in the paint kept the Mountaineers away from the rim, as three-pointers seemed to be the only chance for them to get points.

“Certainly Soares is a factor in the lane,” West Virginia head coach Dawn Plitzuweit said. “Makes life really difficult.”

The threes that were falling with ease in the first half were nowhere to be found in the second. West Virginia put up 13 shots from beyond the arc and hit none of them.

The Cyclone lead grew more and more as the game drew to a close. With just minutes left in the game, the lead was too big for West Virginia to overcome and the Cyclones could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

“A game like tonight, everyone is gonna be, ‘It was ugly, it was this, it was that.’ Okay, that’s fine,” Fennelly said. “But you got to find a way to win those games.”

With how competitive the Big 12 looks this year, every win matters and no night will be a cake walk. The Mountaineers gave the Cyclones a scare early on, but closing out games strong, as they did, will be the factor as the Big 12 season rolls on.