Cyclones rise to the challenge, secure win over West Virginia


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State guard Emily Ryan tries to pass the ball in the Cyclones’ game against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first round of the Big 12 Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 11 in Kansas City, Mo.

Aaron Hickman

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not many foresaw Iowa State’s 66-60 win over West Virginia being as close as it was, but a win’s a win at this time of the year.

And the Cyclones will take it.

It may not have been pretty, and it looked quite the opposite at different points of the evening, but the “next 40 minute” approach resulted in a victory for Bill Fennelly’s group Friday. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.

And in a game where each side had to withstand big runs, it came down to principles and want-to to close things out.

Both teams started out hot early in the first quarter, trading buckets for quite some time before reality set in. When it did, Iowa State was the first to take advantage.

Building a 13-point lead at the half, and leading by as much as 21, things were going according to plan for the Cyclones.

“I think things were going really well for us then,” Ashley Joens said. “We started getting some stops on defense, and that kind of led to some of our offense.”

But eventually the pendulum swung in the other direction.

Coming out of the locker room looking like a completely different team in the second half, the Mountaineers caused all kinds of problems in what turned into an ugly third quarter for the Cyclones.

Going the last 4:14 of the frame without a point and shooting one of its last 18 while West Virginia went on a 16-2 run in the final seven minutes of the quarter, things weren’t looking bad so much as concerning for Iowa State as it clung onto its lead.

“I thought it was, especially in the second half, more physical,” Emily Ryan said. “We did a good job of adjusting to it as best as we could, but I personally need to be stronger with the ball and take care of it better. Too many turnovers, but I thought as a team we came together and handled it well.”

“It’s March, so we’re gonna have physical basketball moving forward. That’s something we’ve gotta get used to.”

It was Ryan who started to assert herself and lead the charge late in the game, helping the Cyclones to secure the win.

After a drought of over three minutes, Ryan converted two free throws. Then, Ryan scored the team’s first field goal in over five minutes with one of the most difficult layups she’s had all year.

Taking a stagnant offense and helping to will the team to victory shows the grit of the sophomore point guard, and why she’s one of the best there is in the eyes of her coach.

“You know, I’ve said that there’s not a point guard in the country that we would rather have than Emily Ryan,” Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly said. “There’s not a point guard in the country that her teammates would rather have than Emily Ryan.

“The kid is a winner, and she takes responsibility. All she wants to talk about is that she has five turnovers. Well I’ll tell you what, if you have the defense that she sees every single night, you’re gonna have your share of turnovers, too. She’s amazing.”

Fennelly said there’s a reason Ryan has the ball in her hands at the end of the game, and that all she cares about is doing what’s right for the team.

Lexi Donarski did what was right for the team, as well. Being held scoreless in the second half until converting three clutch free throws towards the end of the contest, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year didn’t let her effort on the other end of the floor dip at all.

Donarski is considered as the defensive leader of the team, and for good reason, but all five players on the floor didn’t let the defensive intensity slip.

Despite the cold stretches of offense, that just might be what saved the team from suffering a postseason upset.

“They never let West Virginia get into that danger zone of a one-possession game, four-point game, because we got some stops,” Fennelly said. “We missed shots that we haven’t missed all year, layups, threes, but if they’re not scoring and you’re ahead, that’s a good thing.”

Just last week, Fennelly said West Virginia was a team capable of winning the Big 12 Tournament. Following Friday’s game, he gave credit where it was due once again.

Lauding the team’s physical defense and talent, the Big 12’s longest tenured coach promised he wasn’t just saying such a thing for the sake of it.

And up next, there will be even more teams capable of winning it all in Kansas City.

With possible rematches with Texas and Baylor on the horizon, and even a tough Kansas State squad, there is plenty that needs to be cleaned up heading into tomorrow.

Extended stretches without scoring, committing 18 turnovers, losing the points-in-the-paint battle. These are things that the Longhorns and the Bears have taken advantage of to an even greater extent than West Virginia.

The team is still trying to solve the riddle of those physical, punch-you-in-the-mouth style of teams, but the pieces are in place to turn things around. With the big three of Donarski, Joens and Ryan, though, the potential will always be there to get a tough win.

This is the time of year where great players rise to the occasion. Going back to what Fennelly said about doing what’s right, all three of those Cyclones played 40 minutes on Friday.

“They can sleep in a couple weeks,” Fennelly said, as Ryan smiled a couple of chairs over. “They’re not coming out of the game. We’re not on the load management here. It’s not happening. If they don’t ask to come out of the game, they’re not coming out of the game.”

If that’s what’s right for the team, you can expect those three to do it.