Three Big Takeaways: Joens the MOP, Cyclones bring home Big 12 title


Christian Royston, Sports Editor

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State came out of a tough and physical matchup against Texas as Big 12 Champions, taking down the Longhorns 61-51.

The Cyclones entered the matchup having not won a Big 12 title since 2001. With a crowd full of Iowa State fans, it was a game dominated by defense and momentum, as the Cyclones battled to a win.

Texas dominated on defense, as the physicality the team brought to the court caused issues for the Cyclones all season long. However, the Cyclones rolled through the last two games and weren’t looking to slow down in the final game of the weekend.

Defense dominated first half

The first basket for either team didn’t come until two minutes into the game. That was how the game was looking to play out.

It was a defensive battle from the jump. Texas excelled in physical matchups, so Iowa State wanted to counter that.

“Texas is really physical, really aggressive defensively; so you just have to, when they get in foul trouble, attack the basket,” Ashley Joens said. 

By the end of the first quarter, Iowa State was shooting 35 percent from the field, while Texas was shooting 28 percent. Iowa State maintained a small lead going into the second quarter.

By the halfway point in the second quarter, Texas started to find its groove. Iowa State struggled to keep up with Texas’ physicality and full-court pressure, as Texas harvested points off any crack in Iowa State’s defense.

After Texas got an and-one to take a four-point lead, Joens rushed down the court and put up a contested shot from beyond the arc to pull the game within a point.

From that point on, it was a battle for the lead. The constant back-and-forth persisted into the half, as neither team cracked 30 points, with both teams sitting around 33 percent shooting.

As physical as it gets

The second half started much faster than the first. Morgan Kane started the quarter with a trip to the charity stripe, where she sank both shots.

From that point on it was more back-and-forth, as Iowa State and Texas traded shots through the first half of the quarter. Not only were the teams trading shots score-wise, but shots were traded on the court as well.

“We’re willing to fight and do whatever we need to do to win a game,” Lexi Donarski said.

Izzi Zingaro had a big impact in the first half, keeping the lane secured while dueling Texas’ big players. Zingaro was also fighting for crucial rebounds to fuel the offense.

Early in the third quarter, Zingaro took a shot to the face, forcing her out of the game for a short while. 

Just a few possessions later, Emily Ryan cut her knee while falling to the court on a defensive possession, forcing another stoppage in the game. After wrapping up her leg and cleaning up the blood, she was right back in the game.

Those small injuries, paired Joens hitting the floor constantly while fighting off defenders in the lane, made an already-physical game more brutal.

“They are very physical, and you just have to keep battling,” Joens said.

As the game progressed, Joens would only hit the floor more and more. The beating Joens receiving in the lane played to her strengths, as her skill at the free-throw line was on display.

The bodies didn’t stop hitting the floor until the final buzzer rang. Iowa State could finally breathe.

Joens’ last Big 12 fight

Joens’ impact was felt throughout the tournament, as she led the team in scoring in both the previous rounds, scoring a total of 52 points so far.

“The great players show up at the biggest moments,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said.

With a Big 12 title on the line, it was more crucial than ever for Joens to play at her best. Fans didn’t have to wait long, as Joens knocked down the first points of the game with a three-pointer.

From that moment on, Joens was dominant across the board. By halftime, she was up to 13 points and five rebounds. Just five minutes later, Joens was over 20 points.

It was clear that if the Cyclones wanted to win, they had to do it through Joens.

The Cyclones had the final possession in the third quarter leading by five. As time was running out, Nyamer Diew caught a pass on the outside.

Diew let a shot fly as the buzzer rang, and the shot fell. Municipal Auditorium exploded with cheers. Iowa State marched into the final quarter with an eight-point lead. 

“Different people did different things well in each game,” Donarski said. “That was what we needed to get the win out there.”

As the final quarter rolled around, Joens broke the 25-point mark as the Cyclones extended their lead to double-digits. 

The energy inside of Municipal rivaled that of Hilton Coliseum as the tides looked to be changing. Iowa State was just minutes away from history. 

Iowa State had a 15-point lead with five minutes to play. However, Iowa State went cold as Texas started to surge back.

The Cyclones’ shots weren’t falling, while Texas fought for every point it could get. With two minutes left in the game, Texas battled back to cut Iowa State’s lead to 10.

With just a minute and a half left, Joens went back to the free-throw line. A few MVP chants roared out of the crowd. She made both free throws. 

“I knew I had to make the free throws, of course,” Joens said. “But I could hear [the fans], and it was special to know that we had kinda pulled away.”

Then the Cyclones got a defensive stop. 

Joens got another trip to the free-throw line with one minute left. As she made her shots, more MVP chants roared throughout the crowd. Fitting, as Joens ended the tournament as the MOP (Most Outstanding Player).

Joens ended the day with 28 points and 10 rebounds, the only Cyclone to break double-digits.

“To be able to play with this team, and to be able to do it with this team and these coaches is as good as it gets,” Joens said.

Iowa State’s historic journey through the Big 12 Championship was over. The Cyclones were Big 12 champs for the first time in over 20 years.