Iowa State defeated Texas 82-73 in Austin, Texas, on Saturday to move to 22-7 on the season and 12-5 in Big 12 play Iowa State also moved into sole possession of second place in the conference.
Fast start and second half struggles
On the road against a ranked team, Iowa State probably couldn't have dreamed of a better start than what it got against Texas.
The Cyclones' first quarter was an all-out blitz offensively, as the team made five-of-seven threes en route to a somewhat shocking early 17-point lead.
It was shocking not only because it happened on the road, but also because the Longhorns only give up an average of 61 points per game and had previously stifled the Cyclones in Ames back in January.
It was a blistering start, but one of the downfalls of being a team that's reliant on jump shooting is you're vulnerable to streaky shooting. The beginning of the second half saw the Cyclones do a complete 180, as the team scored 12 points on 4-18 shooting throughout the entire third quarter.
Two of the game's broadcasters mentioned that the Cyclones seemed to look a bit fatigued in to begin the half, but whatever was the issue, Iowa State allowed the Longhorns to hang around and at least have a fighting chance at the end of the game.
The Cyclones never seemed to be in any real danger because the team built up such a big lead early on, but head coach Bill Fennelly has often said that the best teams have the killer instinct to deliver a knockout blow at some point in the game. The Cyclones didn't have that on Saturday.
Joens big night
As usual, senior Bridget Carleton was the Cyclones' leading scorer on the evening with 23 points, but right behind her was freshman Ashley Joens with an impressive 22-point performance in a key road game.
Joens did almost all of her damage from behind the arc, going 5-for-9 from three in the game and 4-for-6 in the first half. Joens also went 5-for-5 from the free throw line and delivered a key and-one play in the fourth quarter, all while playing 37 minutes.
Joens has certainly had her up-and-down performances throughout the course of the season, like most freshmen do, but Saturday night provided yet another indication that Joens can rise up to the moment in big games.
Alone in second
Without a doubt, the biggest takeaway from Saturday's win is Iowa State sits alone in second place in the Big 12 standings.
In the very short term, that doesn't mean a whole lot, at least in terms of the Big 12 Tournament. Regardless of what happened tonight, there's a strong chance that these two will meet again in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on a neutral court, as the two seed and three seed are on the same side of the bracket.
(Of course, that's assuming that both team's win their final regular season games.)
In the grand scheme of things, however, this was a huge win for Iowa State. Not only because it was a ranked win on the road, but also because Texas is a perennial contender in the conference, and the Cyclones were 1-7 in their last eight games against the Longhorns coming into Saturday.
On top of that, the Cyclones just put themselves in excellent position to host a regional in the NCAA Tournament, meaning the team could get to play up to two NCAA Tournament games in Ames.
ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme had the Cyclones as No. 4 seed coming into Saturday night, which is the threshold to host a regional. Assuming the Cyclones take care of business against last place Kansas on Monday and win at least one game in Oklahoma City, a No. 4 seed or higher seems like a lock.
That's easier said than done, however. Kansas has had a rough year, but it's a quick turnaround to play a game Saturday night and then fly back to Ames and play Monday night. If the Cyclones prove up to the task, it seems likely they'll be rewarded an inside track to the Sweet 16.