AMES — Iowa State guards Rae Johnson and Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw were celebrating at center court with 0.1 seconds left Sunday at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa State and No. 2 Baylor were tied 56-56. They weren’t celebrating because they played well against the Lady Bears, they were celebrating because they knew they were about to beat the Lady Bears.
“That shows exactly how much confidence we have in Ashley (Joens),” Johnson said. “She’s a great player and she put herself in great position. We have a whole lot of confidence in that kid.”
Joens stepped to the free-throw line and made the first of her two free throw attempts to give Iowa State the lead. She missed the second but as soon as Baylor rebounded the miss, time ran out and Iowa State completed a 57-56 upset win.
“I got up there and told myself, ‘It’s just like practice,’” Joens said “And then it went in.”
Joens didn’t have her best game — she was just 3 for 18 from the field while scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds — but Fennelly still had faith in his star sophomore when the game was on the line.
“That kid is one tough you-know-what,” Fennelly said. “She probably got hit more today than (Iowa State running back) Breece Hall gets hit in a football game. She was going to the basket every play and there was contact but she just kept going and going.
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“Every single person associated with our team was really relaxed when she was shooting that free throw. (Joens) was smiling, Maggie and Rae were celebrating and acting like we already won the game. Ashely has that kind of confidence and her teammates have that kind of confidence in her.”
Iowa State handed Baylor its first conference loss since 2017 and did so without the help of Kristin Scott, who was out with a back injury.
Senior Ines Nezerwa had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds in 18 minutes before she fouled out in place of Scott. Because Nezerwa was in foul trouble, Morgan Kane played 14 minutes, scored a basket and grabbed five rebounds.
Because it was senior day, Fennelly started Iowa State’s four seniors — Nezerwa, Adriana Camber, Jade Thurmon and Nia Washington — as well as Joens. Thurmon and Washinton don’t normally get a lot of minutes.
“I told our seniors before the game, ‘You’re going to play five minutes,’” Fennelly said. “Then you’re thinking as a coach, ‘this could be 8-0 and a first-round knockout.’ But our seniors played great. Nia got a stop, Jade hit a big shot and so we went back with them later in the game.
“Every coach loves the whole ‘team-win’ thing and that’s usually not true. Usually your two best players win the game and the rest of them stay out of the way. This is a game where everyone contributed.”
Iowa State had a tough time scoring against Baylor’s size.
“We knew they were going to be bigger, faster and stronger,” Joens said. “But we also knew we had to compete every play and we stuck together and grinded it out.”
This tied for the highest-ranked win in program history with a Jan. 14, 2004 victory over No. 2 Texas Tech.
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The upset provided Iowa State (18-11, 10-8 Big 12) the signature win that was missing from its NCAA Tournament resume.
“We’ve had some good wins and our strength of schedule was really good but when you beat, in my opinion, the best team in the country, I’m sure people that are looking at the bottom scroll on ESPN are going to say, ‘Dang it, we have to wait until it rolls around again,’” Fennelly said. “Because no one is going to believe it happened.”
Johnson said the win is a “huge” confidence boost as Iowa State prepares for the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.
“I’m a huge believer that special people finish things,” Fennelly said. “Anyone can start. It takes no skill, no talent and no commitment to start something. I said at the beginning of conference play that we’re going to play 18 conference games and then hopefully be in the postseason — we’re going to finish this the right way. The seniors bought into that — even more in the last two or three weeks.”
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