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Iowa State women's basketball beats first-place Texas for much-needed Big 12 victory

AMES – With the Iowa State women’s chances at a Big 12 title fading and their shot at hosting NCAA Tournament games slipping away, the Cyclones couldn’t afford another setback.

The 19th-ranked Cyclones responded by delivering one of their best performances of the season, beating No. 23 Texas 66-61 at Hilton Coliseum on Monday night. It wasn't an upset if you go by the national rankings. But in some ways this victory came out of nowhere.

Iowa State (16-7 overall, 8-5 Big 12) was in the midst of a season-long three-game losing streak and suffered a shocking road loss at West Virginia on Saturday. But the Cyclones bolstered their postseason resume and managed to stay in the conversation for the league title they were predicted to win before the season started.

"It's great energy and momentum moving us forward as we get into postseason and finish up Big 12 (regular season) and get ready for the Big 12 Tournament," said Iowa State guard Lexi Donarski.

Iowa State's Ashley Joens takes a three-point shot over Texas' DeYona Gaston (5) during the first quarter at Hilton Coliseum on Monday in Ames.
Iowa State's Ashley Joens takes a three-point shot over Texas' DeYona Gaston (5) during the first quarter at Hilton Coliseum on Monday in Ames.

The Cyclones quickly turned the page on the setback in Morgantown, W. Va., and zeroed in on taking down the top team in the Big 12 with a strong shooting night and a relentless performance on defense. The Cyclones, who have struggled from 3-point range this season, shot 48.9% (23-for-47) from the field including 53.3% (8-for-15) from 3-point range. Texas couldn't get going until late in the game and shot just 2-of-14 from 3-point range.

"I thought coach (Bill Fennelly) had his team ready," said Texas coach Vic Schaefer.

Iowa State led from start to finish, jumping out to an 8-0 lead to start the game. Texas missed its first six shots of the game and had a difficult time recovering. The few times Texas (20-7, 11-3) mounted comebacks, Iowa State responded. After the Longhorns cut the lead to 46-38 in the third quarter, Iowa State's Morgan Kane grabbed an offensive rebound and found Ashley Joens at the top of the key for a 3-pointer. Then Donarski hit a 3-pointer at the end of the third to give the Cyclones a 52-40 lead.

Texas mounted one last comeback in the fourth quarter. After missing its first 11 3-point shots of the night, Texas made two straight and cut the lead to four. Later, with Iowa State clinging to a three-point lead, Joens connected on a layup and hit a free throw to give the Cyclones some breathing room. A 3-pointer by Denae Fritz gave Iowa State a 64-57 lead.

Joens, who finished with 24 points, put the game away by sinking a pair of free throws with 14.2 seconds remaining. The Cyclones were able to turn the page after losses to Kansas State (road), Baylor (home) and West Virginia (road).

“I think just having that rough couple of games there and being able to come out at Hilton and have our fans with us and get a win, (it) just put us back on track and kind of motivate to continue going forward," Joens said.

This was a big win for Iowa State

What does Monday's victory mean for the Cyclones? Well, a lot. Iowa State entered the game four games behind Texas for first place in the Big 12 standings. The Cyclones also sat behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the standings and were tied with Baylor. Getting to the top of the standings will be difficult, but there is a path with Baylor and Oklahoma State among Iowa State’s final five games.

More important, it helps Iowa State’s seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The Cyclones are still in a position to possibly host the first two rounds if they can get a top-four seed. Iowa State was likely on the outside looking in heading into Monday’s matchup. But the victory gave the Cyclones a resume-builder along with the win over Oklahoma earlier this season.

Iowa State's Denae Fritz, right, and Texas' Taylor Jones battle for a loose ball during the first quarter of Monday's game at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa State's Denae Fritz, right, and Texas' Taylor Jones battle for a loose ball during the first quarter of Monday's game at Hilton Coliseum.

History-making night for the Cyclones

Fennelly and Joens both made some history Monday.

Fennelly became the 27th coach in NCAA women's basketball history to reach 750 victories. He is the 13th coach to get all the wins at Division I institutions, with a stop at Toledo before coming to Iowa State.

Joens started her 149th game, the most of any player in Big 12 history.

Iowa State women's basketball coach Bill Fennelly is honored Monday at Hilton Coliseum after beating Texas for his 750th career victory.
Iowa State women's basketball coach Bill Fennelly is honored Monday at Hilton Coliseum after beating Texas for his 750th career victory.

An eventful game for Lexi Donarski

Donarski tallied 11 points in the win, but stats tell only part of the story. The junior guard had to leave the game in the first quarter after getting hit in the face by a Texas player. Officials reviewed the play that caused Donarski to fall to the court. Incidental contact was determined; Donarski went to the locker room to have her bloody lip worked on.

She returned to the bench with an ice pack on her face in the second quarter but barely sat down before Fennelly summoned her to return to the game. Donarski played 33 minutes and sank three of her five 3-point attempts.

"I thought I lost a tooth," Donarski said. "That's why I started crying, because I thought I lost a tooth. But I didn't. So we're good."

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State women's basketball team takes down first-place Texas