Ashley Joens is the star for Iowa State and she will need to outplay the Kansas State Wildcats’ star, Ayoka Lee, to give her Cyclones a chance of winning Friday. Joens & Co. also need something else to click.
The Iowa State Cyclones (4-3, 1-0 Big 12) entered the season at No. 15 but already have three losses and, now, are receiving just 15 voting points, which puts them outside the Top 25. Things could be looking up, though, as the Cyclones try to extend their current winning streak to three games when they take on the Kansas State Wildcats on Friday at 7 p.m. ET in Ames, Iowa.
The Cyclones’ losses aren’t too bad — one came against the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks and another was to the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, who have been ranked as high as No. 22 and received votes every week this season. The third loss was a two-point heartbreaker versus intrastate rival, the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have a winning culture and more talent than anticipated.
Kansas State (5-2, 0-0 Big 12) is in a similar place entering its conference opener. The Wildcats have a loss to the Idaho State Bengals, who were picked to finish first or second in the Big Sky, and the other loss came against the No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats. Kansas State’s best win was by seven points over South Dakota State.
Based on all that, Friday’s contest may be evenly matched, though the Cyclones — as the previously-ranked team in the matchup — will have a chip on their shoulder.
Iowa State and Kansas State were picked to finish third and fourth in the Big 12, respectively, but, based on Big 12 voting points and the NCAA rankings, a big drop-off was expected after third place in the conference.
Iowa State freshman Lexi Donarski will be a key player in tonight’s game. At No. 14 on Hoop Gurlz, she was the highest-ranked prospect in a stellar 2020 recruiting class and she is starting to come into her own for the Cyclones. Lately, Donarski has looked exactly like what the team needs: a great secondary scorer who can supplement superstar Ashley Joens’ gaudy scoring totals.
Donarski has led Iowa State in scoring in each of the last two games — 25 points (Dec. 12) and 19 points (Dec. 15). Can she come up big again, versus K-State?
Highlights: Lexi Donarski holds her own in a high school game against No. 1 recruit Paige Bueckers
Meanwhile, Kansas State is all about 6-foot-6 sophomore center Ayoka Lee who, like Joens, made the Preseason All-Big 12 Team. Lee leads the Wildcats in points (17.8) and rebounds (8.2) per game.
The Wildcats average just 59.1 points per game, however, so they will need Lee to have a breakout performance and help them keep pace with the Cyclones’ offense.
Kansas State Wildcats (5-2, 0-0 Big 12) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (4-3, 1-0 Big 12)
When: Friday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Hilton Coliseum in Ames, IA
Key to the matchup: Shooting. The teams’ field-goal percentages (41.6 Iowa State, 38.3 Kansas State) are both in the bottom half of the Big 12, with the Wildcats in last. In addition, their 3-point percentages (26.5 Iowa State, 25.4 Kansas State) are very much on the low side. Therefore, whichever team can catch fire from the floor will have the advantage. When it comes to free-throw shooting, the Cyclones are shooting 82.8 percent to the Wildcats’ 63.7 percent, so that could be the difference-maker, too.
Reason to watch: Both teams could be tournament-bound and, if Iowa State gets the win, it could pave a path back into the rankings.