116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Some would consider it an unenviable task. A burden, not a blessing. A chore instead of an opportunity.
But every time Iowa State junior guard Lexi Donarski receives her defensive assignment, she accepts it eagerly.
Her ongoing mission? Guard the opponent’s best scorer — and when the 10th-ranked Cyclones (6-1) meet No. 16 Iowa (6-3) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, that means trying to control Hawkeye All-American Caitlin Clark.
“She’s a very talented player,” said Donarski, who scored 16 points in ISU’s 77-70 home win over Iowa last season. “It’s really hard to stop her from scoring because she can score in just so many ways, but it will be a team effort.”
Clark scored 26 points in last season’s meeting with the Cyclones, so Donarski’s task hinges on making it a few degrees more difficult for the Hawkeyes’ most dynamic player. In short, Clark will likely put up plenty of points, as usual, but Donarski will be asked to make her less efficient.
Case in point: Clark turned the ball over six times against ISU last season and needed 26 shots to score her 26 points.
“You don’t shut out or slow — whatever the word is — an offense like (Iowa’s),” Cyclones head coach Bill Fennelly said. “You’ve got to be smart. And historically, when we’ve had success against teams like this, our attention to detail on our scouting report is good. We’re a team that’s historically not fouled much.
“Do you defensive rebound? Do you win special situations? All the stuff you can control.”
Few teams can control Clark, who’s averaging an NCAA-leading 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 6.9 assists for the high-scoring Hawkeyes. But that’s not the point — and Iowa’s ability to coax scoring from multiple sources makes focusing solely on her an ill-advised gambit.
Hawkeye forward Monika Czinano is averaging 16 points per game, as well, and three of Iowa’s key rotational players are shooting 41 percent or better from 3-point range for an offense that’s tied for seventh nationally in points per game at 87.2.
“Anytime you get to play against good competition it’s really exciting,” said ISU all-time leading scorer Ashley Joens, who matched Clark with 26 points in last year’s triumph. “You want to be the best and that requires playing the best, so we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna play and just follow what the coaches say and play our game.”
That means playing fast, just like the Hawkeyes. The Cyclones rank 16th nationally in scoring offense at 84.3 points per game with Joens, a former star at Iowa City High, leading the way at 19.9 points per contest.
Three other ISU starters — Donarski, 6-foot-6 forward Stephanie Soares and point guard Emily Ryan — average between 12 and 16 points per game, so the Cyclones can score in diverse ways, as well.
“We’re excited to play them,” said Donarski, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s a fun game every year.”
That’s partly because of her ongoing mission, which includes defending Clark every year.
“I’ve always prided myself on defense,” Donarski said. “When my mom (Pam) played basketball, she was a great defender, so I think at a young age it was kind of ingrained in my head that you’ve got to care on both ends of the floor.”