Iowa State women's basketball team upset by Toledo in first round of NCAA Tournament

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – An Iowa State women’s basketball season that began with so much excitement, so much hype and so many expectations came to an abrupt and early end Saturday.

The 20th-ranked and fifth-seeded Cyclones were upset by 12-seed Toledo, 80-73, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Iowa State finished with a 22-10 record. Iowa State star Ashley Joens, the program's all-time leading scorer, played in her final game, scoring 23 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in the loss.

"When you get into the NCAA Tournament or any big game, I've always said it's a make-or-miss-shots game," said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly. "And they made a lot of shots and we missed a lot of shots."

Toledo guard Khera Goss (22) battles for the ball with Iowa State's Ashley Joens, right, and Emily Ryan (11) in the first half of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville, Tenn.
Toledo guard Khera Goss (22) battles for the ball with Iowa State's Ashley Joens, right, and Emily Ryan (11) in the first half of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville, Tenn.

The result was unlike anything Iowa State was expecting after the 2021-22 season, one of the most successful campaigns in program history that culminated with an appearance in the Sweet 16.

The Cyclones, with the bulk of their roster returning, were expected to be even better in 2022-23. Fennelly's team began the season ranked in the top 10.

The Cyclones, in part because of injuries and inconsistent play, were unable to consistently perform at the high level expected of them this season. Last week's Big 12 Tournament championship in Kansas City was an impressive achievement after a regular season marked with ups and downs.

A deep run in the NCAA Tournament was on players' minds when the season began. But Iowa State’s struggles late in the regular season damaged its seeding and sent the Cyclones to Tennessee to meet up with Toledo, one of the top mid-major teams in the nation.

"Obviously it stings and it's going to be upsetting for a long time that we didn't do things that we could have in the stretch," said Iowa State post player Morgan Kane. "And we can always talk about potential but I think just by challenges throughout the season, we really rallied around each other and tried to make adjustments and make changes to be the most successful we can do."

The Big 12 Tournament title ended up being the highlight of the season for the Cyclones, who had to pivot early in the campaign after star post player Stephanie Soares suffered a season-ending injury. Iowa State, which was predicted to win the Big 12 regular-season crown, fell short of that goal. The Cyclones had a chance to make up for some of the letdown with a big run in the NCAA Tournament.

But that came to a crushing close early on as well with Iowa State running into a Toledo team that has now won 17 straight games and entered the tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation. It showed early on with the Rockets running and scoring at will. They shot 48.4% from the field and never let up.

Iowa State's issues began early in the second quarter when Toledo ripped off a 12-0 run to give the Rockets a 34-25 lead. The Cyclones couldn’t keep up with the frantic scoring by the Rockets. Iowa State missed eight shots in a row at one point and didn’t end the drought until Lexi Donarski drove the lane for a nice layup.

Toledo's Sophia Wiard (2) shoots over Iowa State's Emily Ryan (11) in the first half of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville, Tenn.
Toledo's Sophia Wiard (2) shoots over Iowa State's Emily Ryan (11) in the first half of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game in Knoxville, Tenn.

Iowa State picked up some momentum at the end of the quarter when Emily Ryan tallied a layup and Joens knocked down a pair of free throws to pull Iowa State to within 43-36 at the half. But Toledo kept scoring and Iowa State rarely could get a stop as the Rockets built a 16-point lead in the third quarter.

"They were shooting the ball so well and we just really had a hard time defending them," Fennelly said. "We couldn't make some open shots."

Iowa State shot just 35% from the field including just 19% (6-for-31) from 3-point range. Still, Iowa State managed to climb back into the game. The Cyclones closed out the third quarter with a 7-0 run and pulled to within 61-53 after a 3-pointer by Donarski. The Cyclones kept it close the rest of the way and cut the deficit to five on two occasions.

But Toledo, Fennelly's former team, always responded with a big bucket when it needed one and sank six free throws in the final minute to secure the win.

Donarski finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Ryan and Denae Fritz both chipped in with 11 points. Then there was Joens, who struggled in her final game, shooting just 5-of-19 from the field, but still managed to tally a double-double in her final act as a Cyclone.

"It's bittersweet," said Joens as she tried to fight back tears in the postgame press conference. "But I've been blessed to play here."

Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at tbirch@dmreg.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State women's basketball falls in first round of NCAA Tournament