AMES — Everyone has heard of the proverbial “freshman wall.”
In theory, the transition from high school basketball to college and its heightened demands, rigorous routine and higher number of games have caused many a rookie to see their production fade over the latter part of the season.
Not so with Iowa State women’s basketball freshman Ashley Joens.
“The first thing with Ashley that I am really, really proud of is that she accepts coaching,” said Iowa State Coach Bill Fennelly, who will lead the third-seeded Cyclones into the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 14 New Mexico State on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum. “She accepts hard coaching. She understands that it is not just, ‘Go get 30 points and don’t do anything else.’ We’ve asked her to defend, we’ve asked her to score. She has practiced really hard. She hasn’t, which shocks me, she hasn’t hit the freshman wall. Most of the time, freshmen’s bodies have told them a month ago the season is over. She is playing a lot of minutes at a high level.”
Joens earned the title of Miss Iowa Basketball last season when she led Iowa City High to a 25-1 record and a berth in the Class 5A state title game. This season, Joens has started all 33 games for Iowa State and ranks third on the team in both scoring (11.7 points per game) and rebounding (4.9), along with a team-high 188 made 3-point baskets.
“It’s just crazy to think that last year even, I was just sitting at home watching the NCAA Tournament,” Joens said. “And now I get to play in it. It’s just been a lot of fun, especially with this group of girls. We’re all real excited to be able to play, and especially to play in Hilton again.”
Iowa State (25-8) is hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 2014. To earn their first tournament win since 2013, the Cyclones will have to get through New Mexico State (26-6), winner of 17 games in a row and champion of the Western Athletic Conference.
“They’re here for a reason,” Fennelly said. “They play five guards a lot. It kind of reminds you of the kind of games you do in the non-conference where they don’t have the size that Baylor, Texas, people in our league do, but they do different things. … You try and pick out a couple of things, but really at this time of year I think you’re focused on, we are anyway, what do we need to do to make sure we’re playing the way we want to play?”
The Hilton doubleheader will begin at 2:30 with a first-round game between sixth-seeded DePaul (26-7) and No. 11-seed Missouri State (23-9), which has its own Miss Iowa Basketball in 2017 honoree Elle Ruffridge of Pocahontas Area, the state’s all-time leading scorer.
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“I’m happy for her that she has the opportunity to play in her home state,” Missouri State Coach Kellie Harper said.
Saturday’s winners will meet in a second-round game on Monday.
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