Ashley Joens is one of the best players in the country, and in case folks had forgotten, she was quick to remind them Wednesday night in Fort Worth.
Joens, a junior hailing from Iowa City, had 20 first half points on her way to a 33 point, 11 rebound evening to propel her #23 ranked Cyclones to an emphatic win over the Frogs in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
While it was all Clones early, Raegan Pebley’s squad didn’t go away early; trailing 54-32 at the half, the Frogs cut the lead to just 14 halfway through the third quarter, before a 17-8 closing run by Iowa State all but put TCU away. TCU came out of halftime with some fire in their bellies, looking to “throw the first punch” as had been their goal pregame. “The halftime speech set the fire underneath us. We as a team we decided we were going to make a change and be the aggressors,” Tavy Diggs said of the third quarter run. But foul trouble slowed TCU down, and wide open looks at the basket allowed the Cyclones to pull away once again. “Just in general, foul issues, people playing more passively when they get into foul trouble really hurt us,” Pebley said. “Open threes for them off of transition, three point plays, and and one opportunities — those deflating types of plays.”
It started behind the arc for Iowa State Wednesday, as they hit nine of their first 18 attempts from behind the arc but finished 11-35 as the Frogs turned up the defensive intensity in the second half. Meanwhile, TCU, not known for their deep ball, went just 5-16, a disadvantage that was just too much to overcome. But it wasn’t the offense that was the problem for Pebley’s squad: for a team that relies on turning defense into offense, and averaged 31 points off of turnovers coming into the night, forcing just 12 turnovers and turning them into just 12 points just simply wasn’t enough. “In general this team is still building chemistry. Our program demonstrates chemistry on the defensive end, and that carries over to offense,” Pebley said. “They were finding early scores, shook our synergy. This is the Big 12, if you're not ready to play fast and right away, you’ll find yourself down big.” Iowa State is a complex offense, and one of the worst types of teams to face early in the season — especially one that has been so greatly impacted by shutdowns. The Frogs’ shutdown came at a bad time — as they all did — but didn’t allow the coaching staff much of an opportunity to look ahead, according to Pebley. “When we got out [of the COVID-related shutdown], we only had time to focus on that first game, and the next opponent was up fast. We didn’t have time to work on a team as complex and skilled as Iowa State. I have to get better under the circumstances to get us prepared and ready.”
There were bright spots, though, especially in sophomore Tavy Diggs. Coming in with a career high of just nine points, Diggs went off against Iowa State, scoring 19 points and showcasing her ability to score in a variety of ways. Diggs is someone who has seemed to get better each night, and as her defensive intensity has increased, so have her minutes. “My team needed me to step up, so I stepped up the the challenge,” Diggs said of her performance. “Whatever my team needed me to do, I tried to do.” Pebley agreed, saying of her young player’s game “in general, she played steady, didn’t play rushed. She didn’t take bad shots, she took good shots, and when you take good shots, your percentage is generally going to go up.” She’s going to be a star for the Horned Frogs, and a great second scoring option next to Lauren Heard. Speaking of Heard, she was no slouch Wednesday either, 18 points with six rebounds and five assists, but uncharacteristically struggling from the free throw line, where she was just 7-12.
The Frogs were out-rebounded on the night 45-35, a stat that bothered Pebley postgame. “Defense isn’t defense if you don’t rebound,” she said.
Next up for TCU is a matchup with Lamar a week from today, on Wednesday December 9th, at 11:00 AM in Schollmaier Arena. Their scheduled contest at Missouri was cancelled due to COVID protocols within the Tigers’ program. It will be a tough week of practice for the Frogs, who will spend plenty of time in the gym. “These next few practices are going to tough,” Diggs surmised. “The coaches are going to work on our mental toughness, see who can play in the Big 12.” Pebley agreed, being clear about what her focus will be going forward. “Toughness, and that you can’t pout. You cant feel bad for yourselves, because no one else is feeling sorry for us.”