Through the first six games of the year, Ashley Joens has not failed to score 24 points (or more). In four of the six games, she eclipsed the 30-point mark.
She has been the cog that has kept the engine running for the entirety of the early portion of the year, much like she was last season. She’s the star player.
Joens needs some help, though, and for the Cyclones to be successful, she can’t be the only one finding the hoop.
“I don’t think there is any question,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “Any help we can give (Joens) is great. Every team guards (Joens) the same way. They beat her up, they triple-team her, and if you don’t make other teams pay for that, it’s just going to continue.”
Giving her help will be the focus on Tuesday night when the Cyclones travel to Cedar Falls (6:30 p.m., Cyclone Radio Network) to take on in-state rival Northern Iowa.
Iowa State is coming off of a game in which freshman Lexi Donarski went off for a team-high 25 points against North Dakota State on Saturday.
Performances like that are what Fennelly wants to see from the supporting cast.
“The ability for other people to make shots, to create offense, is going to be huge for us – not just tomorrow, but for the whole season,” Fennelly said. “But, I do think the balance we showed Saturday was really good to see and something that has to be there as we continue to try and get better.”
While Joens battled physical post players for the majority of the game, Donarski was on the perimeter making a few 3-pointers, making moves to find open 2-point shots from the 15-foot range plus she connected on both of her free-throw attempts.
She ended the game shooting 10-of-19 from the field, the type of line that Iowa State has desperately wanted to see more from the team’s role players.
Fennelly knows that Donarski can get better, too.
“If the highlight of Lexi Donarski’s career at Iowa State is a 25-point game in the sixth game of her career, in front of no fans in a non-conference game, she’s not doing the things she needs to do and certainly the coaches aren’t either,” the veteran coach said. “She should have a high level of confidence moving forward in the way she is developing on a daily basis.”
She was the highest-rated player of the freshman class by a big margin and it’s expected that she continues to improve throughout the year.
“Like for every great player, you’re never satisfied,” Fennelly said. “You don’t settle for anything. There’s always more you can do. She played a great game on Saturday, but, like I said, there is so much more to learn and grow from. Hopefully, that gives her even more incentive to continue to do the work it takes to be a great player at this level.”
However, whether it’s Donarski breaking out, a different freshman stepping up or a senior coming in to make a big splash, it doesn’t matter. The Cyclones want – and maybe need – the rest of their offensive pieces to contribute in order to reach their goals this year.
Fennelly has the confidence in them, too.
“This is the first team that I’ve been around where every single kid that we put on the court – I think – can score,” Fennelly said.
Early makes from the 3-point line brought Iowa State a blowout win over TCU in its first conference game this season. The shots falling throughout the game helped the confidence of Iowa State’s players and delivered a near 60 percent mark from the field in the first half.
Fennelly and his staff hope that Donarski’s breakout game on Saturday can do the same for the team going forward.
“We haven’t really proven that,” Fennelly said. “We haven’t shot the ball great, but I think we’re capable of it. I think that everyone has the capability of giving us a 15-point game on a given night. Hopefully, when the shots are available, we’ll kind of get to the point where we’re making the shots that we know we can make.”
They’ll face off in a tough test with UNI.
The Panthers are coming off a dismantling of South Dakota State – a team Iowa State lost to in its second game of the season.
UNI locked down on the defensive end and beat the Jackrabbits in a similar way to how the Cyclones lost their game in Brookings.
“The biggest thing to me was that UNI just dominated the game from basically the second quarter on,” Fennelly said. “They’re always efficient game-planning defensively. South Dakota State had a terrible time scoring and that should get the attention, if nothing else, of our team. They dominated South Dakota State the way South Dakota State dominated us.”
It’s going to be another tough test for Iowa State in an already difficult non-conference slate and stepping up will be key.
The team just wants the question to become, “who,” rather than, “when.”
“Every time you travel on the road to play an in-state opponent, you know how hard it is,” Fennelly said. “We know what this game means to Northern Iowa. They have a very good team – a very senior-dominated team – and a very well-coached team. We’re going to have to play really well to have a chance to win.”