By Susan Harman
AMES, Iowa – Even Ashley Joens smiled.
The stoic Iowa State senior and City High graduate had the final rebound in her hands and couldn’t help but melt into the adoration heaped upon her and her teammates by a roaring Hilton Coliseum crowd after a 77-70 victory over Iowa Wednesday.
“We kind of knew that we had it,” Joens said. “Just a sense of excitement to know that it’s been awhile since we won in this series.”
The Cyclone victory was the first in six tries against Iowa.
“The crowd was phenomenal. I told our kids before the game that the environment in this game will be better than any college game in the country, men or women, and it lived up to that,” ISU coach Bill Fennelly said.
This wasn’t the game that many expected, and yet it was exactly the kind of game it figured to be considering the 11,348 boisterous fans, the defense played by both teams and the nature of the rivalry.
Neither team’s All-American shot well. Iowa’s Caitlyn Clark was 10-for-26, including 4-for-12 from 3-point range. ISU’s Joens was 9-28 and 1-9. But both led their teams in scoring with 26 points apiece.
Iowa center Monica Czinano did not dominate the paint as expected against Fennelly’s post-by-committee. Czinano had foul trouble but did play 30-plus minutes and was held to 13 points and four rebounds. ISU countered with Morgan Kane and Beatriz Jordao who combined for nine points and 11 rebounds. Points in the paint were even at 34.
“I thought B and Mo did a great job of just…you know, don’t let her get possession in her best position,” Fennelly said. “And we wanted to make her guard at the other end. Sometimes that’s a way to take your legs out a little bit too.”
Both teams shot about 33 percent from beyond the arc, which was an improvement for Iowa, but ISU had averaged 37 percent.
Transition baskets were few and far between for Iowa, which scored but one basket on a fastbreak.
“Our transition defense was the focal point of our game plan,” Fennelly said.
ISU had only eight turnovers so there were not a lot of live-ball turnovers on which to run. ISU was willing to give up some offensive rebounds in return for sending three players back to defend and cut down the catch-and-shoot threes from Gabby Marshall and McKenna Warnock.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder pointed to one key difference in the game. Iowa State shot 22 free throws (made 16) to Iowa’s six (made 5).
“When you don’t shoot free throws it’s hard to win a game,” Bluder said. “We shoot six, they shoot 22. I thought we should have shot more. We have more field goals than they do (28 to 26); we shoot better from two (.452 to .435), better from three (33 percent to 32 percent). If you give up 16 free throws to a really good basketball team it’s hard to win.
“We drew a lot of fouls that weren’t called.”
Iowa battled back in key spots to keep itself afloat particularly at the end of the second quarter when the game could have gotten away. ISU led 34-22 with about 4 minutes left in the half. Iowa had only scored in two of 11 possessions to start the quarter. On top of that Czinano had two fouls and had to go to the bench for awhile.
But Iowa managed to hold ISU to one more basket the rest of the half while four different Hawkeyes contributed nine points, and they trailed only 36-31 at half.
“Iowa’s not going to go away,” Joens said. “They’re going to keep fighting and keep playing.”
The Hawkeyes went to Czinano early and often to start the second half and grabbed the lead three different times.
“There were a lot of open looks coming into the third quarter,” Czinano said. “I don’t think they were expecting it.”
“I never feel like we’re out of the game,” Bluder said.
It was short-lived when the Cyclones finished the quarter on a 10-5 run to lead 57-54.
Iowa never regained the lead but was within four three times. By that time ISU was marching to the foul line and converting just enough to hold off Iowa.
“One game doesn’t define a season,” Bluder said. “It was a road game in a great environment against a really good basketball team. We’re going to learn from that.”
The 17-day moratorium on play due to the Covid-19 tests continues to haunt Iowa in terms of its offensive consistency.
Iowa is 5-2 and plays Central Florida on Dec. 18 at home. ISU improved to 9-1.