Harrington: Can the Cyclones make a true NCAA Tournament run?


Lexi Donarski dribbles the ball against Kansas on Jan. 27.

Andrew Harrington

A 17-3 record marks the best start the Iowa State women’s basketball program has had since the 2004-05 season. Seems pretty good.

The Cyclones have not made the NCAA Sweet 16 since 2010, so why do I think this year’s team has more potential to make a run in the NCAA Tournament than the Iowa State teams of recent years?

The chemistry has been there, and the Cyclones have kept together a top-tier coaching staff for some time.

Iowa State was listed as a three seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology, and it also holds a favorable schedule in the next four games.

But this year, there’s more than meets the eye.

Four big scorers

Lexi Donarski, Emily Ryan, Ashley Joens and Aubrey Joens are each capable of scoring 20 points on any given night.

This balance is something that not many offenses around the country possess, and it gives the Cyclones a big advantage going into each game in a tournament where all it takes is hot nights.

Bill Fennelly emphasized the importance of having four players that can score, saying it could help the team make a run after Wednesday’s win over Kansas.

If Aubrey Joens can get back to the scoring production that she had at the start of the season, then Iowa State would be a team that no one would want to run into down the road.


There are a lot of teams and players that say they hold each other accountable. But this Iowa State team means it.

One moment that stands out was when Ryan was not satisfied after finishing the game against Kansas with nine assists and just two turnovers.

“Turnovers are always something you want to limit,” Ryan said. “Still had two turnovers too many, so it’s something I definitely want to work on cleaning up.”

This is just one of many examples of the players expecting more of themselves and each other, even after a win.

Defense from the Stars

A lot of great basketball players are either offensive or defensive specialists. The best ones are sometimes just the right combination of both.

The latter indicates the advantageous situation for Iowa State’s top players: Donarski, Ryan and Ashley Joens.

Not only can each of the three play great defense, but they each excel in different areas.

Donarski is usually tasked with guarding the opponent’s top offensive player. She has received a lot of praise from Fennelly for her ability to play nearly 40 minutes with elite defense and offense.

Ryan leads the team with 1.8 steals, clogging passing lanes and playing great hustle defense.

Ashley Joens excels more when it comes to interior defense. Averaging a team-leading 9.5 rebounds per game, she can rebound over the opponent’s tallest player.

Overall, this team definitely has the potential to make a deep run if these three keys hold true.