Three Big Takeaways: Baylor’s physicality too much for Cyclones

(From left to right:) Emily Ryan, Ashley Joens and Morgan Kane sit on the bench during the Cyclones’ 87-62 loss to No.5 Baylor on Feb. 28 in Hilton Coliseum.

Aaron Hickman

In a showdown between the top two teams in the Big 12 with plenty on the line, it was yet another tough performance against Baylor for the Cyclones on Monday night.

Falling 87-62, Iowa State will need a win against West Virginia and a loss by Baylor on Saturday to claim a share of the regular season Big 12 title.

On a special night that saw a historic crowd fill up Hilton Coliseum (13,907), the Bears’ overall style of play created problems for Iowa State for the second time this season.

To compound that issue, a cold shooting night mixed with foul trouble added fuel to the fire.

Struggle with physicality

Two teams with similar styles and similar personnel have gotten the better of Iowa State this year, and none of the meetings have been close.

Both Baylor and Texas play with a lot of physicality, have a guard that runs the offense well and rely greatly on interior weapons doing damage.

And the Cyclones overall point differential in the four meetings against those teams?

It’s minus-94.

At this point of the season, everyone is looking for the type of team you don’t want to meet come NCAA Tournament time. Matchup nightmares create upsets and bad performances year-in and year-out, and a trend is developing in what type of team could be a tough out for Iowa State.

Head Coach Bill Fennelly pointed out how weird the Big 12 is this year, citing the fact that his team has beaten Oklahoma twice while the Sooners have bested Baylor twice.

But he also acknowledged the particular matchup problems that these big, physical teams pose to the Cyclones.

Fennelly took responsibility for getting his players better suited to handle the physicality and said that you can recruit a couple of kids to help out with that issue, but at this point of the season it is what it is.

“It’s a bad matchup for us in both of those cases,” Fennelly said. “Right now, at this point of the year you can’t practice the way you want to. But, you know, we are who we are, and I’m not gonna apologize for who we are. I’m not gonna do it, but it is a matchup that’s a struggle for us, no question.”

Potential Big 12 Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith had a cool 28 points and 20 rebounds on an efficient 11-15 from the floor. Her post partner Queen Egbo chipped in 10 points and eight rebounds. The two also combined for seven blocks.

On the other hand, Morgan Kane and Beatriz Jordão combined for 12 points and only three rebounds. The team was outrebounded 44-26 overall, and the Bears won point-in-the-paint 36-26.

Still, this isn’t deterring Fennelly from wanting another shot.

“I hope we get to play them again, which means we’re probably playing them in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament. Sounds ridiculous to ask for that, but it’d be fun to try.”

Trouble with shooting, fouls

Shooting just under 36 percent while Baylor shot over 51 percent was a big problem for Iowa State.

Adding on foul trouble, with Lexi Donarski only playing seven minutes in the first half and Ashley Joens fouling out in the fourth quarter, things got ugly fast for the Cyclones.

“One thing we stressed ad nauseam was that we had to stay out of foul trouble, and that didn’t happen,” Fennelly said. “We probably should have changed sooner to prevent that, because then we have no chance. Ash in foul trouble and Lex in foul trouble, we’ve got a problem.”

They weren’t the only ones.

Emily Ryan had three fouls. Nyamer Diew finished with four. Although Iowa State shot more free throws, Baylor still took care of business at the line.

Shooting 11-13 on freebies, the Bears completely controlled the flow of the game. Able to get whatever they wanted on the offensive end while the Cyclones couldn’t buy a bucket, it was complete “hot vs. cold” matchup that saw Iowa State on the wrong end.

As one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, with that aspect quite possibly being the team’s bread and butter, shooting 4-22 from beyond the arc put the Cyclones in a tough spot.

Add on the physicality and shot-making ability of Baylor, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

The second quarter is when that recipe started to really show itself, as Donarski sat the entire period, and the Bears outscored the Cyclones 22-11.

“Defensively, we weren’t doing what we needed to do, and then we weren’t able to make up for it on the offensive end,” Emily Ryan said. “Just combine the two and it wasn’t a good quarter for us.”

A historic turnout

With 13,907 fans filing into Hilton Coliseum for Saturday’s game, the atmosphere was truly special for a top-10 matchup with significant Big 12 implications.

Marking the second largest crowd for a women’s basketball game in an arena that has stood for half a century, the Cyclone faithful cheered loudly and boo’d often, making their presence known during a game that was one of the biggest in program history.

And on a day that is meant to be special for the seniors, it was exactly that.

“It’s something you dream about doing when you’re younger,” Joens said. “You watch the games on TV or you go to them, and you dream of being in that position and playing in a competitive game like this.”

Joens was visibly emotional when she fouled out with just over six minutes left in the game, hugging teammates and coaches on the bench before cheering loudly throughout the rest of the game.

She maintained after the game that she will make her decision on whether to stay another year or head to the pros after the season is over.

Maddie Frederick started for the first time in her career on Saturday, as the redshirt junior will graduate this year and forego her remaining eligibility.

When she checked out of the game early in the first quarter, the crowd made sure to show its appreciation.

And when she saw some more action late in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach, she connected on her only shot of the night.

That shot was a three that set a new single-season program record of 304 makes from beyond the arc, and it gave the Hilton crowd something to smile about during a game that didn’t go according to plan.

Through thick and thin, the crowd was there to try and will the Cyclones to a victory. And when they couldn’t, they still stuck around.

Fennelly thanked all of the people who bought tickets and got on social media to encourage people to head to the game.

When asked about the “why” of fans coming to see this team in such a historic fashion, Fennelly pointed to the amount of dignity and class that his players represent the university with.

“You’ve got a lot of people on a Monday night, we just got beat really soundly, and a lot of them sat and listened to our seniors talk,” Fennelly said.

“I mean, who does that? No one. There’s a lot of things that go with how you act and how you conduct ourselves. Our fans have always had an emotional attachment to our kids, whether we’ve won or whether we’ve lost.”