The Weekly Roundup: Ashley Joens vs. Ayoka Lee, Haley Cavinder’s Brilliance, and Caitlin Clark Doing Caitlin Clark Things
Recapping a classic Big 12 battle and the latest from the nation’s triple-double machines
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I learned three things this week. The Robert Pattinson perfume ad that continuously airs on ESPN+ is objectively terrible. Tennessee is for real. Baylor’s stranglehold on the Big 12 is over.
Entering Sunday afternoon’s game against Kentucky, Tennessee had several wins over pretty good programs and a couple of notable triumphs over Texas (74-70 in OT) and South Florida (52-49) earlier in the season. Without more victories over AP top 25 teams and Rae Burrell for much of the season, it was difficult to assess just how good the Lady Vols were. Their 84-58 obliteration of then-No. 19 Kentucky helped answer that question. Really good. Like, AP top 5 good. They lead the country in almost every measure of shooting efficiency on the defensive end, including opponent field goal percentage (30.6% - no team in the Her Hoop Stats database has held its opponents to a sub-30% field goal percentage in a full season). They have three players in the top 40 in individual defensive rating - Jordan Horston (13th), Tamari Key (11th), and Alexus Dye (40th). If defense wins championships, then the Lady Vols are in great shape.
As far as my last nugget of knowledge from the past week is concerned, the Big 12 conference is wide open. That’s a statement that hasn’t been true in several years due to Baylor’s dominance. The Lady Bears have captured 11 straight Big 12 regular-season titles and nine of the last 10 conference tournament crowns. Yet, this season, Baylor (1-2 in Big 12 play) nearly started their Big 12 slate with three straight losses. In addition to Baylor, there are three other Big 12 teams currently in the AP top 15 (Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas). Kansas State was previously in the AP top 25 until it was blown out by Texas Tech. Unranked Kansas knocked off Texas and came within inches of earning its second straight win over a top 15 team, losing a heartbreaker to Baylor. The bottom line: it’s pure chaos in the Big 12, and I love it.
Game of the Week: Joens’ 18 second-half points propels Cyclones to comeback win
The Big 12 clash featuring the conference’s top two scorers, Ayoka Lee and Ashley Joens, didn’t disappoint. The score at the end of the first half of last Tuesday’s Big 12 clash between Iowa State and Kansas State was as follows:
Iowa State: 24
Ayoka Lee: 24
That is not a typo. Ayoka Lee matched the first-half output of the then-No. 9 team in the country. Her supporting cast contributed 11 points to give the Wildcats a 35-24 lead heading into the locker room.
Joens responded with 18 second-half points, including a 4-for-5 effort from long-distance. The contest was nip and tuck in the final few minutes until Iowa State’s Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw banked in a game-winning three-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining, giving the Cyclones a thrilling 73-70 road victory. Joens finished with 27 points and 8 rebounds. Lee led all scorers with 38 points and added 11 boards plus three blocks to her stat line.
“Ashley and Ayoka are such great leaders of the teams, the schools, and the programs, and both of them played at an extremely high level tonight,” Iowa State coach Fennelly said.
Kansas State controlled much of the game, having the lead for all but 32 seconds. Nearly every time the Cyclones made a run, the Wildcats found a way to maintain at least a five-point cushion. Iowa State finally broke through this threshold with 3:33 remaining in the game when sophomore guard Lexi Donarski (13 points) drained one of her three triples to cut the Wildcats’ lead to three, 65-62. Trailing 70-65 with 2:39 left in the contest, Iowa State finished on an 8-0 run, culminating in Espenmiller-McGraw’s aforementioned heroics. The Cyclones allowed just two Kansas State field goals over this timeframe (one of which was rejected by Joens).
Iowa State curiously opted not to double-team Lee for much of the game, a gamble that largely didn’t pay off given her stat line. The Wildcats outscored the Cyclones in the paint by a whopping 54-24 margin. Iowa State, which ranks 13th in the country in three-point percentage at 37.8%, countered by hitting a blistering 12 of its 23 attempts from behind the arc, including 6-for-7 in the fourth quarter.
Iowa State (16-1), who ascended to No. 7 in the most recent AP poll, followed up this victory with another road win in Stillwater, Okla. against Oklahoma State. The Cyclones host No. 15 Texas tomorrow night. Kansas State (10-4) dropped its second straight decision in a blowout loss to Texas Tech on Saturday. The Wildcats take on intrastate rival Kansas tomorrow night.
Power Six performance of the week: Caitlin Clark, Iowa
It can’t be overstated how difficult it is to record a triple-double. Only roughly 600 of these stat-stuffing efforts have been posted over the past 37 seasons. Caitlin Clark did not receive this memo.
After a sluggish 2-for-10 first half from the field, the Iowa sophomore hit seven of her last 12 field goal attempts and finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals in her team’s 93-83 comeback win against Nebraska Sunday night. Despite continued struggles from behind the arc (1-for-4 vs. Nebraska and 22.7% on the season), she found other ways to score, drawing 10 fouls and converting all 12 of her free throw attempts. Clark, the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, notched her third triple-double of the season, the most in the country. She joins Penn State’s Makenna Marisa as the only players with a 30-point triple-double this year.
It’s remarkable that Clark, a co-recipient of last season’s WBCA Freshman of the Year accolade, has found room for improvement this year. Her scoring prowess (25.6 PPG, second in the country) and passing ability (7.4 assists per contest, third in the nation) are well-documented. However, Clark has also cut back on turnovers (3.8 vs. 4.8 per game last year), and her individual defensive rating has drastically improved from allowing 105.5 points per 100 possessions last year to just 84.0 this season. If Clark’s long-distance shooting returns to form, this could turn into one of the best seasons in recent memory.
Mid-Major performance of the week: Haley Cavinder, Fresno State
Fresno State’s Haley Cavinder dished out a program-record 13 assists in her team’s 87-74 win over San Jose State Saturday afternoon. That alone is impressive. The fact that she accomplished this feat without committing a single turnover is mind-boggling. Only Cavinder and Iowa State’s Emily Ryan have dished out that many dimes in a game without a single miscue this season. Cavinder recorded her second triple-double of the season with a stat line of 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 13 assists; Caitlin Clark is the only other player to have multiple triple-doubles this year. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that this is my pick for the mid-major performance of the week.
The completeness of Cavinder’s game is exemplified by her being the only player in Division I to rank in the top 50 in points (19.3), rebounds (9.6), and assists (5.9) per game. She’s lived up to her billing as the Mountain West Preseason Player of the Year, posting career-highs in nearly every major offensive category except for points per game. Even then, her modest dip in scoring (19.8 PPG last season vs. 19.3 PPG this year) is offset by improved offensive efficiency. Cavinder’s 0.99 points per play, 1.17 points per scoring attempt, and 53.1% effective field goal percentage are all career bests.
And don’t be surprised if she gives Clark a run for her money at the top of the triple-double leaderboard. Cavinder narrowly missed a triple-double by just two assists against Portland earlier this season and was just one point and two rebounds away from another one versus BYU.
Adam’s Top 25
Here’s my top 25, which as always is based on the criterion of who would win in a hypothetical neutral-court matchup.
Her Hoop Stats content in case you missed it
The Her Hoop Stats team released the following podcast content this past week:
Megan Gauer broke down all things ACC with her guest James Hyman in the latest episode of Unplugged.
In a special episode of the Her Hoop Stats podcast, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton joined Gabe Ibrahim to explore what free agency looks like for the Seattle Storm.
On Courtside, Gabe Ibrahim and Christy Winters Scott offered their thoughts on Megan Gauer’s projected top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament and discussed Sue Bird’s return to the WNBA.
Using AP poll data and Her Hoop Stats ratings, I analyzed the level of parity this season and whether it can help explain the recent barrage of upsets.
With the WNBA qualifying period now over, Richard Cohen provided his reactions to the coring decisions and qualifying offers that happened during this timeframe.
In their weekly update of the Big Ten, Derek Willis and Marissa Sisk analyzed the conference’s strong rebounding backcourts as well as players who have flown under the radar this season.
Aneela Khan evaluated the recent hiring of Víctor Lapeña as the head coach of Team Canada.
In her weekly Pac-12 recap, Kim Doss explored the key roles that Mya Hollingshed and Quay Miller have played in Colorado’s 13-0 start.
Jacob Mox highlighted four players whose play this season merits more recognition than they have received.
James Hyman covered NC State’s blowout win over intrastate rival North Carolina as well as Boston College’s solid start to conference play in his weekly ACC review.
Her Hoop Stats’ resident bracketologist Megan Gauer revealed her top 16 seeds for the 2022 NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Other recommended content
Natalie Heavren chronicled the basketball journeys of Amy and Claire Jacobs and Julie and Katie Jekot. The two pairs of sisters shared the court last night when La Salle took on Saint Joseph’s.
For FiveThirtyEight, Howard Megdal assessed the biggest names likely to change teams during the WNBA’s free agency period.
Last year, 47% of women’s basketball coaching vacancies were filled by Black coaches. ESPN’s Byron Medcalf interviewed some of the nation’s top Black basketball coaches about these positive hiring trends.
Geno Auriemma recently explained that UConn is missing a quarterback without Paige Bueckers. For The Athletic, Charlotte Carroll unveiled the four candidates most likely to fill this important role.
Trivia question of the week
Who are the only three players with an officially recognized triple-double in the WNBA and NCAA Division I (has to be after 1985-86 when assists began being tracked)?
Correction: An earlier edition of this article incorrectly identified TCU as having defeated Kansas State on Saturday. It was in fact Texas Tech who knocked off Kansas State.
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.