Michigan State women seek answer for Iowa State's do-everything star Ashley Joens
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant, in studying her team’s first-round women’s NCAA Tournament opponent, Iowa State, has seen a team she believes is underrated as a No. 7 seed.
And that's probably not coachspeak.
The Spartans (15-8), a No. 10 seed, will face the Cyclones (16-10), led by one of the nation’s most prolific scorers, Ashley Joens, on Monday night in San Antonio. MSU is led by junior guard Nia Clouden, who is averaging 18.8 points, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game and trying to become the first player in the program since Kris Emerson in 1985-86 to lead the team in those categories.
“They have five kids that can shoot the 3 and shoot it at a high clip,” Merchant said, referring to the Cyclones. ‘They can really, really score, and they do enough defensively. They challenge you because if they don’t think a player on your team can shoot, they’ll just sit in the paint and not guard that kid. If you have really good post player, they’ll double, if you don’t, they’ll play behind and kind of push off the block.”
With that in mind, she expects to see Clouden drawing plenty of attention.
“When she drives, I promise you she’s gonna have three people trying to take a charge in front of her,” Merchant said. “They’re a really good basketball team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The Cyclones also have the 6-foot Joens, a junior who is averaging 23.6 points, ranking her ninth nationally, and 9.2 rebounds.
“I’ve never seen a kid play with more heart, soul and guts with that kind of talent,” Merchant said. “Her body must feel awful after every game she plays. When your best player is taking three, four charges, she’s getting hit left and right and getting double-teamed and pushed down and diving on the floor for loose balls, I’ve never seen a kid play with that kind of aggression and heart.
“It’s been fun to watch them and prepare for them. I don’t know what the answer is, because she’s a tough matchup and we have key injuries in the position she plays from a defensive standpoint. On the other end, they do things defensively we hope we can take advantage of.”
This is Michigan State’s fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last six tournaments. The Spartans are averaging 75.2 points a game, while Iowa State has averaged 76.7 points this season.