The Texas Longhorns defeated the Iowa State Cyclones, 66-48, in a Big 12 women’s basketball contest at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, on Wednesday.
The game was supposed to be a battle of two fully-stocked Top-15 teams, as Iowa State (16-2, 5-1 in Big 12) was No. 7 and Texas (13-3, 3-2) was tied for No. 15 with Baylor.
But, that heavyweight matchup changed around noon on Wednesday when Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register reported that Ashley Joens, Aubrey Joens and Denae Fritz would miss the game due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Iowa State confirmed that in a tweet about two hours before game time. Ashley Joens averages 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, while Aubrey Joens averages 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.
That forced head coach Bill Fennelly to put together a starting lineup that included Lexi Donarski, Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw, Emily Ryan, Morgan Kane and Beatriz Jordão.
For Texas, forward Lauren Ebo was ruled out before the game, per the Austin American-Statesman’s Danny Davis. That put freshman Aaliyah Moore back in the starting lineup for the first time in two months.
The absence of the Joens sisters was impossible to avoid. The Cyclones were game for the first half and were down just nine points, thanks to guards Lexi Donarski (14 points) and Emily Ryan (19 points). But things went south in the second half, with Iowa State shooting 27.9 percent for the game, giving up 15 turnovers and seeing Texas score 15 points off those miscues.
Texas didn’t take it easy on Iowa State, exploiting its advantage and depth inside with DeYona Gaston, who scored 14 points and had five blocks, and pushing the Cyclones on defense throughout the game.
Texas also cut the Cyclones’ lead in the Big 12 down to one game, as Texas preps for TCU on Saturday and Iowa State heads for Baylor on Sunday — and hopes to have Ashley Joens or Aubrey Joens, or both, back on the floor.
Here are our three thoughts from the game.
Rori Harmon vs. Emily Ryan
I think Texas’ Rori Harmon and Iowa State’s Emily Ryan are the two best point guards in the conference. And, considering Harmon is a freshman and Ryan is a sophomore, we can look forward to the pair meeting up twice a season for the next couple of years. But Wednesday was their first meeting.
The way both teams chose to play on Wednesday night colored the matchup a bit (more on that in a bit). But if you’re trying to choose a point guard to be on the All-Big 12 First Team, these two are going to have a big say in it.
Harmon already has a complete game, with her ability to run the floor, score, rebound and defend. She’s not quite the consistent scorer that Ryan is right now. But, for the type of offense that Texas head coach Vic Schaefer wants to run, Harmon is a perfect fit. She does a great job of setting up others, especially her forwards.
Ryan has already tied or broken program records for steals and assists in a game. She’s a quality defender and passer. She gets offense on her own, but more often she’s facilitating for others. Without Ashley and Aubrey Joens, she had to shoulder more offense — and she was more than willing. She drove to the basket early and often, drawing fouls and getting to the line. Texas did a better job of cutting off those lanes in the second half, though.
Ryan had a game-high 19 points, with 12 of that coming at the free-throw line. Despite the poor shooting overall, she still had four assists, along with four rebounds and two blocked shots. She also had seven turnovers, but Texas focused all of its energy on her.
Harmon had eight rebounds, four rebounds, one assist and four steals. Since Harmon drew Ryan as her defensive responsibility, most of those steals came at Ryan’s expense.
It was a quality matchup and one I’m looking forward to again on Feb. 16, especially if both teams are at full strength.
Wednesday was a contrast. Texas played man-to-man and Iowa State played zone. Texas won that battle.
Schaefer’s teams are known for stifling man-to-man defense, and that’s what the Longhorns brought. Without Ashley and Aubrey Joens to worry about, Schaefer had his defense focus its energy on Emily Ryan and Lexi Donarski. And, not content to just sit back and play half-court defense, he had his team force the issue with full-court pressure after made baskets. Iowa State had to work hard to get the ball in, at times resorting to having all five players line up on the outside of the baseline and the four players without the ball running an inbounds set out of that.
Iowa State stuck with a zone, and without the Joens sisters that potentially had its benefits. Iowa State knew that Texas had a size advantage, even without Lauren Ebo, and packing the paint could help. Plus, Texas can be spotty shooting from outside. After a slow start, the Longhorns started finding the soft spots in the zone and stopped being passive with swinging the ball around the perimeter. Audrey Warren and Joanne Allen-Taylor hit late 3-pointers in the first quarter, and it seemed to help jar Texas from the doldrums those zones can create.
In the end, Texas did what Texas does best and it worked.
Life Without Ashley Joens
Ashley Joens is listed as a senior, but she could return for a fifth season due to COVID-19 eligibility. But, if she leaves after this season, Cyclones fans got a taste of life without her.
There was probably a sense of foreboding at that thought after this game. Anyone around Iowa State, and anyone who has watched Iowa State, knows how transformational Joens has been for that program and you don’t replace that, or even replicate it.
So, yes, life without Joens next season will be difficult. But, Wednesday showed that Emily Ryan can be as assertive as she wants on offense. Lexi Donarski can be that type of player, too. Remember that Aubrey Joens is coming back next season, as she’s just a sophomore. There’s a solid core. Add in Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw, Nyamer Diew, Izzi Zingaro, Maggie Frederick, Morgan Kane and Maggie Vick, and the Cyclones have pieces to work with. Plus, there’s this neat thing called the transfer portal, and women’s basketball players use it, too.
Yes, life without Ashley Joens is going to be weird and unusual. So, enjoy her greatness now and worry about the rest later.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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