Joens’ 28-point performance leads Iowa State in Big 12 Championship win


Ashley Joens goes for a layup at the Big 12 women’s basketball championship game, Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO, Mar. 12, 2023.

Payne Blazevich, Sports Reporter

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Iowa State’s Big 12 Tournament run was coronated with a conference title crown Sunday afternoon, as the Cyclones clinched their first Big 12 Championship since 2001.

Star guard Ashley Joens capped an outstanding tournament performance with a third 20+ point game, leading the Cyclones in the 61-51 championship victory. Joens and her teammates faced a stifling Texas defense in the matchup, but key shots kept momentum on the team’s side. 

Iowa State was projected to finish first in the Big 12 by the media in the preseason. While the Cyclones couldn’t capitalize in the regular season, Iowa State earned its first-place finish in the conference tournament. 

“It’s amazing to see the smiles on our kids’ faces. It’s why you do this,” Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly said after the win. “There’s a part of me that was thinking maybe it’d be a good time to quit and retire.” 

After being crowned Big 12 Player of the Year for the regular season, Joens put together a historic performance in the conference tournament. Joens’ point totals for her three games were as follows: 30, 22 and 28.

She was the basis of Iowa State’s entire gameplan, and her ability to find points in crucial moments kept the Cyclones afloat. While Joens outscored her average of 21.3 points per game, no other Iowa State player reached double figures. 

Joens’ string of tournament performances earned her the Most Outstanding Player award, as well as a spot on the All-Tournament team. 

“I got the opportunity to come back and 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.

Early in the game, offense from Joens was all Iowa State could rely on. The All-American found a way to put points on the board early, but the rest of her team was shut down by the Longhorns.

The game was as physical a matchup as Iowa State has seen all season. The Cyclones were limited by Texas’ constant ball pressure, which held the team to 26 points in the first half. 

It took some shots from Joens, guards Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan to fall before the Texas defense eased up and spread out. Once the Cyclones found a little scoring momentum, the team couldn’t be contained.

“We had different people step up, which is what we needed,” Donarski said. “People hitting big shots or going in there and getting a huge rebound for us, which everyone was willing to do whatever they needed to do to get the win.”

In the preseason, Iowa State was projected to finish No. 1 in the Big 12 after returning Joens, Donarski and Ryan, while adding two-time NAIA Player of the Year Stephanie Soares for size in the post.

Once Soares suffered a season-ending ACL tear at the start of the conference schedule, the season’s expectations shifted considerably.

When Iowa State fell to the Longhorns in the Big 12 Championship semifinals in 2022, the Cyclones lacked the size and physicality to compete with Texas and Baylor. But even without the size, Iowa State found a way to win. 

The Cyclones beat both teams for the first time since 2020 during the regular season, and the team knocked off Texas and Baylor en route to the conference championship.

“When you play them, you know that if you’re going to beat them, you better play well,” Fennelly said. “We talked a lot about fighting; fighting to finish and our kids have done that.” 

Although the confetti rained down on the Cyclones in the postgame celebration, there is still more basketball to be played. Iowa State awaits its seed for the NCAA Tournament, where the team earned a berth to the Sweet 16 last season. 

Heading into the Big Dance, double-digit wins over three tournament teams, with a conference crown to boot, provides the Cyclones with more than enough momentum.

“We have a group that’s very well-connected,” Fennelly said. “They really do have a lot of trust and faith in each other, and I think everyone’s role… they show up and they give us something.”