KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ashley Joens set a pick to allow a teammate to get open during Iowa State’s 82-73 overtime loss to Texas in the Big 12 semifinal game. She was run over like a bowling pin sitting in the lane waiting to be knocked down to complete the spare. This wasn’t an outlier in the game. It was a trend.
And despite the physicality, the amount of times a Cyclone went to the floor and a 17-7 foul discrepancy that was stacked against Bill Fennelly’s team, Iowa State took the game to overtime.
“I would not rather be around any other people than this team,” Fennelly said after the game. “The way that they believe and have bought into what Iowa State is about, and how much they care about the jersey that they are wearing.”
Physical teams with a large post presence have been Iowa State’s kryptonite.
In four games against Baylor and Texas, the team lost by 18, 26 and 25 points twice. In its other 25 games in the regular season, the Cyclones won 24.
Saturday’s game proved the only doubt that anyone had for Fennelly’s squad was one that only exists in their own head: this team knows it can win those types of games.
“We’ve had some trouble with physical teams in the past,” Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Lexi Donarski said. “Emily (Ryan) played great. She came off ball screens well. That helped our offense.”
This Texas game was different.
Joens made 13 of her 27 shots, including four 3-pointers, and finished with 33 points and 13 rebounds. When the Cyclones needed a bucket, she was there to find a way to get one.
Ryan controlled the ball movement in ways that saw Nyamer Diew standing under the rim with no one around her. The point guard looked comfortable in her eight-point, nine-assist performance.
Donarski continued to show out on defense and hit three of the triples that threatened to blow the roof off a cardinal-and-gold filled Municipal Auditorium.
That’s not even mentioning the pair of three’s Aubrey Joens hit or the crucial block that Beatriz Jordao made on a Texas player late in the game.
Regardless, that’s not what the four conference losses looked like for Iowa State.
“It’s a fight,” Joens said. “You have to stick your nose in there. If they hit a big shot, you have to come back and make a play. I think we did a really good job of that today – we just have to learn how to finish games.”
In other matchups, the defense would miss a step or two, allowing some open looks at the basket that led to a pair of three’s before that impacted the offense and things unraveled.
Iowa State made its mistakes on Saturday, but not near as many as it had in the past.
“This team has been beyond a joy for me,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “At this point in my career, you don’t get that very often. I’m heartbroken that we don’t get to play tomorrow, but the good news is we’re going to play again.”
That team put its head down and played the brand of basketball it wanted to play on Saturday, not letting the bullies force it to deviate from the things that make it good.
And with Selection Sunday just hours away, the Cyclones proved the doubters wrong.
The doubters know now. The fans know now. That team knows now.
Iowa State can hang with anybody. Bring on March Madness.