Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones find their rhythm, move on to finals


Jacob Rice

Emily Ryan shoots for three at the Big 12 women’s basketball semifinals in Kansas City, Mar. 11.

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Everything seemed to be clicking for Iowa State in its semifinal matchup against two-seeded Oklahoma Saturday, as the Cyclones clinched a berth to the Big 12 title game with their 82-72 win.

The fast-paced game started as a back-and-forth battle, but a burst of offense from the Cyclones broke open an otherwise competitive series. Iowa State and Oklahoma traded games during the regular season, but a flurry of threes on Iowa State’s end built up a lead too large to overcome.

The Cyclones weren’t able to pull out a regular season Big 12 championship, as projected in the preseason, but a dominant semifinal win over Oklahoma puts the tournament title within Iowa State’s reach.

A close game breaks open

Iowa State and Oklahoma were trading blows to start the Big 12 Championship semifinal. But after a run of hot shooting from Iowa State, the game slipped out of Oklahoma’s reach before the end of the third quarter.

“Everyone really knocked down shots at the right time, and that makes a huge difference,” guard Ashley Joens said. 

The Cyclones held a six-point lead to start the third frame, but consistent scoring put Oklahoma on its back foot. A layup from forward Nyamer Diew extended Iowa State’s lead to double-digits, creating a momentum swing too large for the Sooners to overcome.

Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa State’s lead reached as high as 17 points. Oklahoma attempted to stage a late comeback, but key buckets from Iowa State’s backcourt helped the Cyclones close out the semifinal win. 

“When you’re kind of in a scoring drought or you’re not getting stops on defense, you’ve got to keep scoring,” Joens said.

Three-point shooting

Fresh off a 30-point, seven three-pointer performance from Joens Friday night, Iowa State delivered one of its best three-point shooting games this season.

Joens, who broke the 3,000-career-point marker against Oklahoma, opened the game with a triple. Her three-point shooting helped close out Iowa State’s win against Baylor, but the long-range scoring was more spread out versus the Sooners. 

“We work on [threes] everyday and sometimes it doesn’t go in but at the right time, the basketball gods will reward us,” Diew said.

Iowa State shot 40.7 percent from behind the arc as a team, with five different players connecting on a triple. Diew led the Cyclones with four, followed by guard Lexi Donarski who went 3-3 on three-point attempts.

There were moments when Oklahoma seemed to be storming back to take a lead late in the game. But when Iowa State needed it most, the Cyclones were able to rely on their shooting.

“We seemed to hit [threes] in the fourth quarter when we had to have them, because we were really struggling to get something to go in the basket,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said.

Diew bounces back against Oklahoma

One of the biggest facets of Iowa State’s high-scoring performance came from Diew. She struggled in the Cyclones’ opening game of the tournament, but she was able to bounce back versus the Sooners.

“Sometimes when you get a chance to [cheer] on the bench a little bit before you go in, you see the flow of the game and bring another set of energy when everyone’s a little tired,” Diew said.

Diew has been Iowa State’s go-to player off the bench this season, but she couldn’t get started against Baylor Friday night after spending most of the game on the bench stuck in foul trouble. Against Oklahoma, she was able to find her rhythm. 

She started on the bench for Iowa State, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the floor when she entered the game. Diew scored 19 points off the bench for the Cyclones, while helping the rest of the team gain a little confidence.

“We have a lot of kids on our team that are not outwardly emotional people,” Fennelly said, “they just feed off each other when one person’s doing it the way [Diew] is doing it.” 

After an eight point performance in the first half, Fennelly was ready to start Diew in the second. Diew preferred senior center Morgan Kane start the half instead of her so that she could play off the bench. 

While Iowa State was warming up on the court, Diew told Fennelly that she would rather see Kane start in her final Big 12 Tournament.  

“When was the last time you heard that?” Fennelly said. “That’s the kind of team I get to coach every day.” 

After knocking off Oklahoma, Iowa State will face one-seeded Texas in the Big 12 Championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday.