Three Big Takeaways: Balanced attack carries Iowa State over No. 25 Wildcats

Maddie Frederick, along with other Iowa State women’s basketball players, celebrate on the bench after a Cyclone three-pointer in Iowa State’s 70-55 win over Kansas State on Feb. 2.

Aaron Hickman

No. 11 Iowa State didn’t need any late game heroics this time around in a season-sweep of No. 25 Kansas State Wednesday at Hilton Coliseum.

Winning comfortably by a score of 70-55, the Cyclones looked like the team that they were for much of the season before the two-game skid against Texas and Baylor.

A big part of that was the tough defense played on Kansas State forward Ayoka Lee, a balanced attack on offense and a knack for getting downhill for easy buckets.

Lee gets locked down

Coming into Wednesday’s matchup, Ayoka Lee was averaging 25 points-per-game and 10.7 rebounds-per-game on the season. She was doing it on an efficient 58 percent from the floor, all while playing only 30 minutes a game.

On Wednesday, that scoring average wasn’t anywhere close to being reached.

Learning their lesson from Lee’s 38 point performance in Manhattan last month, the Cyclones took a much better approach defensively on the junior from Minnesota.

Instead of allowing Lee to go one-on-one and do as much damage as she pleased, this time around the team denied entry passes and always had someone right around the corner to meet Lee if the ball made its way into her hands.

That resulted in only 12 points on 6-16 shooting from Lee, with post players Morgan Kane and Beatriz Jordão sticking to their principles against a very hard player to guard.

“She’s a great player,” Kane said. “We knew from looking back to our past game and other games that she’s had that she’s gonna score. We just have to make it really challenging, box out, make her just get one shot and no second shot chances.”

Kansas State Head Coach Jeff Mittie acknowledged the impact Lee’s off night had on his team, saying that the offense runs through her and when they’ve had tough stretches she’s been the answer, which wasn’t the case tonight.

Perfectly balanced, as all things should be

It wasn’t a Thanos-level threat that the Cyclones faced tonight, but the team still assembled for one of their more well-rounded performances of the season.

In past seasons, Iowa State teams have been very reliant on Ashley Joens and her volume scoring. On a night where she only scored 11 points, the Cyclones still won by 15 against a ranked team.

Joens ended the night with 11 points on 5-10 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

But Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski each had 15 points. Nyamer Diew had 10. Overall, six different players scored at least eight points for Iowa State.

The pressure on Joens to carry the offense simply hasn’t been there as much as it has in the past.

“I think that’s huge for us,” Head Coach Bill Fennelly said. “Life is about balance. Offensive basketball and defensive basketball is about balance, too. Share the ball, create opportunities, put the defense at stress so they can’t just guard two people, three people. Tonight, they had to guard six people.”

Where the big adjustment came in is how Joens, and the team as a whole, dealt with double-teams.

Fennelly stated that some changes in how the offense is run against double-teams have been put in place, and that that had to do with the more balanced offense.

“We’re getting some other people that can contribute on a more consistent basis,” Fennelly said. “[Nyamer] has had back-to-back monster games for us. The other kids are doing what they’re doing. Ash has seen every double-team situation known to mankind, and she’s handled it a whole lot better, and as a group we’ve handled it better.”

Getting downhill

After losing points-in-the-paint by a whopping 54-24 in their first matchup against Kansas State, the Cyclones had a 36-26 advantage Wednesday night.

Putting pressure on the interior defense and taking advantage of poor defensive communication by the Wildcats left the paint open.

And it was all downhill Wednesday for Iowa State — in a good way.

The game started with back-to-back layups by Joens and Emily Ryan, forcing Mittie to burn a timeout. The latter of the lay-ups was completely wide open.

The downhill attack kept up for the entire night, with Joens, Ryan and Donarski probing the defense and getting by their defenders several times. Ryan put on a passing clinic, running the pick-and-roll as well as she has all season.

That game-plan also got Lee into some foul trouble in the first half, picking up her second about midway through the second quarter.

“People will say they’re a three-point shooting team, but what gave us trouble was the straight line drive a lot tonight,” Mittie said.

While the Cyclones were still very dangerous from three (7-16 on the night), the ability to score points in the paint at ease can add a different level to this team moving forward.