AMES, Iowa (AP) — When Ashley Joens squared off with her sisters in basketball, one ground rule existed.
The future Iowa State star and her four talented siblings would simply compete — no holds barred — as their father, Brian, looked on.
“He wouldn’t call them, so we just figured out you have to play through it,” said Joens, who enters Tuesday’s game at Kansas as the Big 12's top scorer at 21.1 points per game. “Someone usually ended up hurt, or crying.”
There was a method to the mayhem — and it’s evident in Joens’ hard-nosed approach to the game. The 6-foot guard from Iowa City scored the final four points in a 63-59 win over Oklahoma on Feb. 8 after dislocating her shoulder. Joens consistently draws the opponent’s top defender, sometimes more than one. One of the Big 12’s best all-around players always comes out smiling after wincing.
“You just have to see what the teams are going to do,” Joens said. “A lot of them are sending double teams, so we have to work around that. My teammates are doing a great job of moving and getting open so I don’t have to go against double teams. I can kick it out and they can knock down shots.”
Besides leading the league in scoring, Joens ranks fourth in rebounds (10.7 per game) and fourth in free throw shooting (81.7%). She has attempted the most free throws (218) in the Big 12.
“Competes, skilled, wants to win. Tougher than tough,” said Cyclones coach Bill Fennelly, joking that Joens could play special teams for the Iowa State football team. "Just the kind of kid you love to be around, love to coach and love to play with.”
Joens was a consensus five-star recruit out of high school and served as a captain on USA Basketball’s under-18 team that won gold in the 2018 FIBA Americas Women’s Championship. She also earned an invitation to the prestigious Jordan Brand Classic in 2018 and last season was named to the Big 12 All-Freshman team.
Joens has found the perfect fit in Fennelly’s program. Her younger sister, Aubrey, a senior at Iowa City High, will join her next season in Ames.
“Obviously, growing up (in Iowa City), you go to the games so you kind of cheer for Iowa and want to play for them,” Joens said. “But when I got recruited here, it was just like when I came on my visit, I just knew. This is the place I could see myself for four years.”
Fennelly said Joens’s versatility and ability to take over a game is similar to that of former star Bridget Carleton, who graduated last season as the program’s second all-time leading scorer.
“Obviously you run a risk of saying you’re the next someone,” Fennelly said. “And I said, ‘We want you to be the first Ashley Joens, but here’s an example of where you can get to.’ We showed her Bridget’s freshman numbers. Her freshman numbers were eerily the same. They both have the ability to find ways to impact the game and they have a basketball IQ and the intangible things.”
Joens showcased all of those skills last Saturday as the Cyclones (16-11, 8-8 Big 12) tried to avert an NCAA Tournament resume-denting fourth straight loss at home against West Virginia. She scored 29 points, including 12 of Iowa State's 14 in the fourth quarter, in a 61-58 comeback win.
Fortunately — unlike her whistle-free duels with her four sisters — fouls were called. Joens drilled all eight of her free throws in the final quarter to cement the victory.
“She knows how to play the game,” Mountaineers coach Mike Carey said. “I mean, she wasn't doing anything but driving, stepping through, ball faking, all that stuff. She (still) got us off of our feet.”
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