Peterson: Iowa high school All-Americans were on the Cy-Hawk big stage

IOWA CITY – The table was set at what looked like a packed house at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Two of the nation’s best women’s basketball teams giving it their all for 40 minutes. Two of the nation’s finest players – one for each team.

This was cool stuff on a Wednesday night in eastern Iowa, but it was more than just the Hawkeyes’ 70-57 victory in the annual Cy-Hawk series.

This was our night. This was our night to burst buttons with pride. This was the state of Iowa, front and center, on a major television network and in front of 13,802 fans watching from their arena seats.

More:Caitlin Clark shakes off sluggish start, guides No. 8 Iowa women's basketball to Cy-Hawk win

The whole world was watching? The women’s basketball world, maybe, considering it was the only Top 25 game on the schedule Wednesday.

It wasn’t always the prettiest game, by either team, but that happens sometimes. There are plenty more games to play. No one’s NCAA Tournament resume was made or broken just because of this one game.

Ashley Joens and Caitlin Clark in pregame warmups

Iowa State’s Ashley Joens warmed up, solo, on one end of the court while Iowa’s Caitlin Clark did likewise on the other. It’s their 90-minute-before-the-game routine. Each game.

Iowa State's Ashley Joens was one of two preseason All-Americans on display Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa State's Ashley Joens was one of two preseason All-Americans on display Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It’s not surprising the first two players out to warm up from their respective teams were two of the best players in the nation, Caitlin and Ashley," ESPN television analyst Debbie Antonelli said after talking privately with Joens. “Ashley noticed that they were the first two players out of the locker room. She asked me, are you surprised? I said no.”

Clark, from Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines, was a preseason first-team All-American. Joens, out of Iowa City High, was a second-teamer. Iowa’s longtime coach, Lisa Bluder, is a graduate of Marion’s Linn-Mar High School. Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly is a Davenport West graduate.

It’s no surprise that a pair of Iowans coach women’s teams that usually are among the nation’s finest.

“We know that historically, the state of Iowa has been the hotbed of girls basketball over the course of time,” Antonelli told me before the game. “When you look at the skill set of the players – the way they shoot the ball, and the way they shoot the ball with range – all of it is important.

“It’s all about scoring. They learned it coming up through the high schools.”

Antonelli is a former North Carolina State star. She’s no stranger when it comes to calling games for our state's women’s teams.

More:Iowa State women's basketball struggles to get going offensively in loss to Iowa

“This game showcases the way the game us supposed to be played – the way they pass and cut, the way they handle the ball,” she said, referring to both teams. “That means they’ve all come from places where they had pretty good teachers and good coaches, and a lot of that was from within the Iowa high schools.

“Over time, as resources have gotten better and as opportunities for girls have gotten better, historically the state of Iowa has always been a leader in that space for girls basketball.”

She then looked back to the court. To her right was Joens.

Swish.

She looked to the floor’s other side, at Clark.

More:Peterson: Cy-Hawk series is center of the college basketball universe this week

Swish.

“These kids can play, and they know it,” she said before joining play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins for their pre-game prep.

Clark ignites third-quarter run for Iowa

After scoring just six first-half points, Clark broke loose. It was her third-quarter 3-pointer that started a 14-2 run after which the Hawkeyes led 45-36. The former Maroon did what she does so well – the deeper she shot, the more she scored, it seemed, but it wasn’t just her. Her teammates got hot, too, and with 6 minutes remaining, it was 60-44 Iowa.

Iowa star Caitlin Clark is interviewed after a near triple-double line of 19 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists against Iowa State Wednesday night.
Iowa star Caitlin Clark is interviewed after a near triple-double line of 19 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists against Iowa State Wednesday night.

Iowa State didn’t help itself with just 4-of-17 shooting during a third quarter Iowa dominated 27-8. That happens sometimes, especially on the road, and when the home crowd is hopped up with excitement.

“Both teams played really, really hard,” Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly said. “Our inability to shoot the ball continues to haunt us. Losing to a team like that − there’s no shame in that.”

What they said after the game

I caught a bit of ESPN’s studio-show wrap-up while waiting for coaches to enter the interview room. They talked about Clark and her near triple-double of 19 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. They talked about Joens – her 15 points and seven rebounds. They talked about how the Hawkeyes defended her the moment she crossed mid-court.

They also said something about the state of Iowa’s rich tradition of girls basketball talent.

“The state of Iowa is amazing for basketball,” Bluder said after the game. “It always has been. We’ve had basketball in this state over 100 years – longer than anyone. (Assistant coach) Jan Jensen’s grandma is in the Hall of Fame.

"It’s an amazing tradition that we have for basketball for girls in this state. Our AAU programs are really good, too. Our AAU programs teach fundamentals. They don’t just roll the ball out there. That also is a big advantage for in-state schools, because all four of us are good basketball teams.”

Besides the two on display Wednesday in Iowa City, there’s Drake (5-2) coach Allison Pohlman, who prepped at Wellsburg-Steamboat Rock High School, and Northern Iowa (5-3) coach Tanya Warren, “The Little Magician” who starred at Des Moines Lincoln High School.

“There’s a lot of good players in our state,” Fennelly said. “Players like Ashley and Caitlin have brought a national presence to women’s basketball.  We have four great Division I programs in our state. It’s a great thing for our state. I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson embarked on his 50th year of writing sports for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa's Caitlin Clark and Iowa State's Ashley Joens shared the stage