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Iowa State begins play Friday in Big 12 women’s basketball tournament with many title hopefuls
No. 3-seed Cyclones take on No. 6-seed Baylor in quarterfinals
KANSAS CITY, MO. — Typically two, maybe three teams have the inside track to a Big 12 women’s basketball tournament championship.
Occasionally, a couple more can be considered legitimate contenders.
But this weekend at Municipal Arena, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly is convinced most of the league’s teams could potentially challenge for a title — and his team’s postseason journey starts with a 7:30 p.m. quarterfinal matchup with Big 12 blueblood Baylor.
“There's a lot of us that have split, or there's been some odd sweeps and again, I think that's what makes this tournament a lot of fun,” said Fennelly, whose third-seeded Cyclones fell in overtime to Texas in the semifinals last season. “And whoever wins it, you're gonna have to play really, really well for three days. And if you don't win it, it's one more great opportunity to play at least one game at a level that you're gonna have to play in the NCAA tournament.
“So I think it's a win-win in a lot of regards.”
It’s rare that ISU (19-9) plays the Bears (19-11) three times in a season. It’s rarer still that the Cyclones win two in a row against Baylor. The last time ISU played the Bears three times in a single season they were swept in 2019. Baylor went on to win the national championship, but this time the Cyclones hope to use the conference tournament as a springboard to a possible second-straight Sweet 16 run.
“It’s gonna be a hard game like we’ve seen all year,” said ISU star Ashley Joens, who earlier this week was crowned the Big 12’s player of the year. “The Big 12’s really good. It’s gonna be a tough game and we’re just gonna have to grind it out until the end like the last time we played them in double overtime. You’ve just got to keep playing hard and compete until the very end.”
That double overtime win over Baylor in Waco, Texas, set the stage for the Cyclones’ second potential two-game win streak against the Bears since 1998. Joens scored 27 points in that triumph and is playing her best basketball as ISU seeks to win the Big 12 tournament for the first time in 22 years.
“We’re in a really good spot right now, especially coming off a win (over Texas Tech),” said Joens, who is the second-leading scorer in Big 12 history (2,957 points). “We know that every game’s going to be hard. Get ready to go and I think we have a really good shot at it.”