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AMES — Bill Fennelly carefully considered the question, paused, then smiled.
Iowa State’s head women’s basketball coach was asked to rank the magnitude of Monday’s 6 p.m. matchup with Baylor against other big games from the past.
Fennelly — in his 27th season as the ninth-ranked Cyclones coach — briefly went mute, then answered.
“Pretty high,” said Fennelly, whose team beat Texas Tech, 71-55, on Saturday to post its school-record 24th regular-season win. “You know, I don’t know exactly. But when you think about it, and you think about the way Baylor’s dominated our league, to even remotely think that you’re playing a game that could impact the standings and a championship, that’s pretty cool.”
It’s almost unprecedented. ISU (24-4, 13-3 Big 12) claimed a share of the regular-season conference crown in 2000 — Fennelly’s fifth season in Ames. If the Cyclones win Monday against the No. 5 Bears (23-5, 13-3) at Hilton Coliseum, they’d be assured of at least a share of the 2021-22 title.
So, yeah, that ranks “pretty high.”
“We’re all excited,” said ISU all-time leading scorer Ashley Joens, who totaled 24 points and 12 rebounds to notch her 45th career double-double. “Anytime you get to play Baylor at home in front of Hilton and all of our fans, we’re excited. It’s a big game, so we just have to come ready to go in practice (Sunday) and really focus in and get ready to go.”
The Cyclones needed to carry that same mentality into Saturday’s game in order to set the stage for a big Monday matchup that will be televised on ESPN2.
Texas Tech took a 35-33 lead early in the third quarter on back-to-back baskets from Ella Tofaeono, but Joens answered with a 3-point swish to stoke a 14-2 run.
ISU’s defense clamped down in the second half, limiting the Red Raiders to 31.3 percent shooting.
Cyclones guard Lexi Donarski set the tone by holding Texas Tech star forward Vivian Gray to nine points — 12 below her season average.
“They were getting to the basket easier than they should have in the first half and getting layups,” Donarski said. “So I think we just picked it up on defense and that’s what really got us going on offense.”
Emily Ryan added 11 points and nine assists despite playing only 26 minutes because of rare foul trouble. Donarski chipped in 10 points while snaring three of ISU’s six steals.
“Emily Ryan leading the team, Lexi Donarski guarding like crazy and Ashley Joens doing what Ashley Joens does,” Fennelly said. “Important win for our team. I thought Texas Tech was really good, very physical, but sometimes you’ve just gotta find a way to win. No pictures on the scorecard, right?”
Plenty will be taken Monday night with the mighty Bears in town — and the inside track to a regular-season Big 12 title on the line.
“We’ll see,” Fennelly said. “If you’re not excited about it, then we’re all doing the wrong thing.”