Iowa State has played in 20 NCAA tournaments, including two Elite Eight appearances. Coach Bill Fennelly, in his 28th season in Ames, is 583-295 overall and 269-192 in the Big 12. But for as good as Iowa State has been, the program has won just one Big 12 regular-season title.
Not long after that lone championship in 2000, Ashley Joens was born in Iowa. Nearly 23 years later, the senior guard/forward holds most of Iowa State's career records. And in Saturday's 86-78 win over Oklahoma, Joens had 32 points to move into third place on the Big 12's all-time scoring list.
Can Joens and the Cyclones win this season's Big 12 title? In a 68-53 loss at Texas on Jan. 15, Iowa State struggled with the Longhorns' pressure defense. To be fair, most teams in the Big 12 have, especially since the return of Texas guard Rori Harmon. Texas is 16-6 overall, but Fennelly acknowledged it's probably hard to pick against the Longhorns in the Big 12.
"I think our experience will help, but you have to look at Texas' ability to defend," said Fennelly, whose team will face the Longhorns again Feb. 13. "But I do have a lot of faith in what we're about. And in a league where you play everyone twice, the key is don't get swept by anyone and try to sweep a couple. That's why beating Oklahoma was big for us after losing down there. But we haven't seen Baylor yet."
That happens first on Saturday at Iowa State (6 p.m. ET, ESPNU/ESPN App), and then at Baylor on Feb. 18.
Iowa State (15-4) suffered a devastating loss in early January when 6-foot-6 center Stephanie Soares -- a NAIA transfer who had proven more than ready for Division I in her lone season with the Cyclones -- went down with a season-ending knee injury. When the severity of Soares' injury was confirmed, Fennelly said it was one of the hardest days of his professional career.
Soares' absence has meant more weight on Joens, but she thrives on it. Joens, who has started all 145 games she has played at Iowa State, has been as reliable and durable for the Cyclones as the concrete that holds up Hilton Coliseum. And she draws about as much attention to herself.
"She doesn't talk a lot. She doesn't smile much. She just plays," Fennelly said. "She cares about her teammates, she cares about winning."
With two wins this past week, Iowa State moved up four spots to No. 12 in ESPN's Power Rankings. It also was a really good week for teams such as UConn and Indiana, which had three victories apiece. It was very rough on Ohio State, which started the week unbeaten and ended it with three losses, plunging eight spots.
Mackenzie Holmes scores 26 points as Indiana defeats Ohio State 78-65.
Player of the Week: Mackenzie Holmes, Indiana
Holmes has been outstanding all season, but the 6-foot-3 forward seems to have found an even higher gear in Big Ten play. In the Hoosiers' three victories last week -- vs. Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers -- she had 25, 26 and 21 points while going 28-of-40 from the field (70%). She also had 20 rebounds.
"It's a guard's dream to play with Mackenzie Holmes," teammate Grace Berger said. "You just throw it to her and you're going to get an automatic assist. This season has been super special to watch. She was always good, but to see the consistency, to see her taking over that leadership role and doing it night in and night out against the best teams in the country."
Team of the Week: UConn
So much has been written about UConn's multiple player injuries, along with coach Geno Auriemma's health issues, that it can be obscured that the Huskies are a really good team. Auriemma acknowledged he noticed some tiredness at the end of this week. But it's to be expected after UConn beat DePaul in Storrs on Monday, overcame Tennessee on Thursday on the road, and then survived a challenge against Villanova -- which beat UConn in the regular season last year -- in Hartford on Sunday.
The Huskies have no depth, so it is an all-hands-on-deck approach. That the starters have this much responsibility is a matter of necessity, not choice. The Huskies are continuously asked how they are still winning with so little in the way of reserves. The answer is in the way they play: They might be fewer in number, but they're still confident. They're still UConn.
Caitlin Clark scores 28 points, dishes out 15 assists and grabs 10 rebounds in leading Iowa to a win over previously undefeated Ohio State.
Win of the Week: Iowa 83, Ohio State 72
By the end of the week, the Buckeyes had lost three times. But that doesn't take the luster off this road victory by Iowa last Monday, which was Ohio State's first loss of the season. Iowa was without starting forward McKenna Warnock (rib cage injury) yet outrebounded the Buckeyes 51-31.
Caitlin Clark, Kate Martin and Hannah Stuelke all had double-digit rebound totals; for Clark, that was part of her second triple-double of the season. And Monika Czinano went 11-of-13 from the field for the Hawkeyes. No. 2 Ohio State was the highest-ranked team Iowa has defeated in coach Lisa Bluder's career.
Astera Tuhina hits the 3-point shot vs. Arizona Wildcats
Coach of the Week: Kamie Ethridge, Washington State
The Cougars beat Arizona on Sunday for their second road victory of the season over a Top 25 team. How many times before that had Washington State defeated two ranked teams on the road in the same season? Never.
Along with that breakthrough, the Cougars beat both Arizona schools this weekend, the first time in a decade Washington State has done that in a season on the road.
Ethridge is in her fifth season in Pullman, Washington, and the Cougars are 15-6 overall and 5-5 in the Pac-12. After a 30-year drought from the NCAA tournament, she took the Cougars to the Big Dance in 2021 and 2022.
Bree Hall drops 18 and Aliyah Boston records her 74th double-double (16 points, 12 boards) as South Carolina cruises past the Tide, 65-52.
It's not the Gamecocks' fault they have been sailing so smoothly that it's almost been too easy to take them for granted. Aliyah Boston's efficiency in their 65-52 victory Sunday (16 points, 12 rebounds, 4 blocks, 8-of-10 from the field) against Alabama was emblematic of how she and South Carolina are playing. Because even when not at their best, they've still been better than everyone else. This week, the Gamecocks face one of the two teams that beat them last season (Kentucky in the SEC tournament final) and the team they defeated in the NCAA final (UConn).
Nika Muhl makes a nice pass in transition to Aubrey Griffin for the easy layup.
The Huskies earned our team of the week honor with their three victories, and this week will bring the 2022 national championship rematch to Hartford. It will highlight how deep South Carolina is and how thin UConn is, but this is what the Huskies are used to by now. While Boston is making a good case for repeating as national player of the year, UConn's Aaliyah Edwards (17.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG) at least deserves to be on the short list in that conversation.
For just the fifth time this season, someone other than Angel Reese led the Tigers in scoring: Guard Jasmine Carson had 20 points in a win against Alabama last Monday. Reese still got her double-double, with 14 points and 14 rebounds. It was LSU's only game of the week, so the Tigers have had time to prepare for the Lady Vols (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN App) and a busy upcoming week.
Cameron Brink racks up 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks in No. 3 Stanford's win over Oregon.
The Cardinal are not scoring as many points as you might think a team with this many offensive options would. That could be a concern, especially considering that Stanford plays six of its last eight regular-season games on the road. But for now, Stanford keeps winning. Since their 55-46 loss to USC on Jan. 15, the Cardinal have won four in a row. That included a 63-60 squeaker against Oregon State and then a 62-54 win over Oregon last week. Cameron Brink's points/rebounds/blocks triple-double against Oregon showed once again she is a defensive game-changer at an elite level.
Last week was enormous in terms of marquee victories: 92-83 at Michigan, and then 78-65 before 10,000-plus fans at home against Ohio State. There was no letdown as the Hoosiers blew out Rutgers 91-68 Sunday at home with another large crowd and moved to a Big Ten-best 10-1 record.
What's worked for this Hoosiers team is not overcelebrating anything. They've stayed even-keel, which should help as they go on the road twice this week against a struggling Gophers team and the in-state rival Boilermakers.
Just behind the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings at 9-1 is Iowa, which has won six in a row since losing Jan. 1 at Illinois. The Hawkeyes' victory over Ohio State on Monday was our pick for win of the week, and it was followed by Clark's fourth near triple-double (one assist shy) of the season as Iowa held off Nebraska 80-76. The Hawkeyes host the third-place Big Ten team, Maryland, this week, a matchup that has been an entertaining offensive slugfest in recent years and airs on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday.
Diamond Miller gets the basket plus the foul
7. Maryland Terrapins (17-4)
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. Penn State (Monday), at Iowa (Thursday), vs. Ohio State (Sunday)
Maryland seems kind of under the radar nationally, but that could change this week. After beating Michigan 72-64 behind Diamond Miller's 23 points in their only game last week, the Terps could get wins over two ranked teams this week and climb more in the Big Ten standings.
The Tar Heels' winning streak stretched to seven with victories over Pitt and Clemson, and it moves North Carolina up to being the top ACC team in the Power Rankings this week. Whatever went wrong in UNC's first three games of ACC play, it seems to be taken care of, as the Heels are 7-3 in the league. That said, only two games separate the top eight ACC teams in the standings.
It was an emotionally tough week for the Irish, who lost super senior starting guard Dara Mabrey for the season to a serious knee/leg injury suffered Jan. 22 against Virginia. Mabrey's older sisters Michaela (a Notre Dame assistant) and Marina (a WNBA player currently competing overseas) preceded Dara in playing for the Irish and were devastated she got hurt. But they and the Irish fan base have rallied around Mabrey in support, and her teammates got an inspired 70-47 victory over ranked Florida State on Thursday. Then on Sunday, Notre Dame fell just short in trying to rally at NC State. Mabrey was the Irish's best 3-point shooter and a vocal leader, so her loss is a big one. The Irish are still tied with Duke atop the ACC at 8-2.
After figuring out how to escape any jam they had been in during their first 19 games and having a perfect record, things went south in a big way for Ohio State last week with losses to Iowa, Indiana and Purdue. Two of those defeats came at home as well. Ohio State coach Kevin McGuff said after the loss at Indiana he thought it could be for the best so his team would learn from it. But then the Buckeyes were hurt Sunday by their slow start against visiting Purdue, as they were outscored 27-13 in the first period and ended up losing 73-65. The Buckeyes took a big fall in the Power Rankings and will in the polls, too. By the same token, losses to two other highly ranked teams doesn't mean the Buckeyes are doing badly, but they need to regroup.
Alissa Pili drives and knocks down the game winning shot over two Bruins for the Utah Utes.
11. Utah Utes (18-2)
Previous ranking: 14
This week: at Oregon State (Friday), at Oregon (Sunday)
The Utes are just a game behind Stanford in the Pac-12 standings after victories over visiting USC and UCLA. Alissa Pili, who started her career at USC before transferring to Utah, led the Utes with a combined 44 points and 14 rebounds in the two games. Utah's Pac-12 losses have been to Colorado and Stanford, and the Utes will have another crack at the Cardinal in the regular-season finale.
Along with her big performance against Oklahoma, Joens had 19 points and 14 rebounds in Iowa State's other win last week, at TCU. Fennelly talked about Joens' well-known poker face while playing, but it doesn't obscure her competitiveness or motor, which never stop. Redshirt freshman guard Denae Fritz also has been a boost; she had season highs in points (14) and minutes played (38) in the win over Oklahoma, a game in which all five Iowa State starters scored in double figures. Getting to the line will continue to be big for the Cyclones, who made 30 of 34 free throw attempts against the Sooners.
13. Duke Blue Devils (18-3)
Previous ranking: 10
This week: vs. Pitt (Thursday), at Notre Dame (Sunday)
After beating Virginia Tech on Thursday, the Blue Devils lost their second ACC game of the season Sunday, falling 70-57 to Florida State. Duke remains tied with Notre Dame atop the league at 8-2, but the Seminoles and North Carolina are right behind. It was just the second time this season that Duke has allowed at least 70 points; the other was in a loss to UConn in November.
Look who's here again: The Longhorns got back in the Power Rankings by beating Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. The latter win avenged Texas' loss earlier in the month to Oklahoma State, and both wins allow the Longhorns to vent their frustration about not being ranked in the AP poll. Injuries have had an impact on Texas this season, and are a big part of why they've been up and down. But when they play the swarming defense they are capable of, they are a team that could win the Big 12.
It was a tough trip to the mountains for the Bruins, who fell in overtime to Colorado and then lost to Utah on Pili's last-second layup. Two losses by a combined total of five points leaves the Bruins frustrated and in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Pac-12, but it doesn't quite drop them from the Power Rankings. They really need a quick bounce-back, though, and play their next four games at home.
16. Oklahoma Sooners (16-4)
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. TCU (Tuesday), vs. West Virginia (Saturday)
Speaking of teams that needed to bounce back, that describes the Sooners, too. They did not play well in a 78-58 loss to Texas or a 86-78 loss to Iowa State. However, both games were on the road. Oklahoma has a chance to get back on track with two games at home this week, and the Sooners will work on limiting fouls. Texas went to the line 25 times against Oklahoma, and Iowa State went 29 times.
Knocked out: Michigan (No. 15)