ISU’s Donarski ready to defend Iowa’s Clark

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ROB GRAY Lee Correspondent

AMES — Some would consider it an unenviable task. A burden, not a blessing. A task instead of an opportunity.

But every time young Iowa State guard Lexi Donarski gets her defensive assignment, she eagerly accepts it.

His ongoing mission? Protecting the opponent’s top scorer, and when the 10th-ranked Cyclones (6-1) take on No. 16 Iowa (6-3) at 6 pm Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, that means trying to control Hawkeye All-American Caitlin Clark.

“She’s a very talented player,” said Donarski, who scored 16 points in ISU’s 77-70 home win over Iowa last season. “It’s really hard to stop her from scoring because she can score in so many ways, but it’s going to be a team effort.”

Clark scored 26 points in last season’s meeting with the Cyclones, so Donarski’s job depends on making things a little tougher for the Hawkeyes’ more dynamic player. In short, Clark is likely to score big points, as usual, but Donarski will be asked to make her less efficient. Case in point: Clark turned the ball over six times against ISU last season and needed 26 shots to score his 26 points.

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“You don’t shut down or slow down — whatever the word is — an offense like (Iowa’s),” Cyclone head coach Bill Fennelly said. “You have to be smart. And historically, when we’ve had success against teams like this, our attention to detail in our scouting report is good. We are a team that historically has not committed many fouls. Do you do defensive rebounding? Do you win in special situations? All the things you can control.

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Few teams can control Clark, who is averaging 28.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and an NCAA-leading 6.9 assists for the Hawkeyes. But that’s not the point, and Iowa’s ability to get points from multiple sources makes focusing solely on her an ill-advised tactic. Hawkeye forward Monika Czinano is also averaging 16 points per game, and three of Iowa’s rotation’s key players are shooting 41 percent or better from 3-point range for an offense that’s tied for seventh. nationally in points per game with 87.2.

“Any time you play good competition it’s really exciting,” said Ashley Joens, ISU’s all-time leading scorer, who matched Clark with 26 points in last year’s win. “You want to be the best and that requires playing your best, so we’ll go out and play and follow what the coaches say and play our game.”

That means playing fast, like the Hawkeyes. The Cyclones rank 16th nationally in offensive scoring at 84.3 points per game, with Joens, a former Iowa City High star, leading the way with 19.9 points per game. Three other ISU starters — Donarski, 6-6 forward Stephanie Soares and guard Emily Ryan — are averaging 12-16 points per game, so the Cyclones can score in a variety of ways as well.

“We’re excited to play them,” said Donarski, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. “It’s a fun game every year.”

That’s partly due to his ongoing mission, which includes defending Clark every year.

“I’ve always prided myself on defense,” Donarski said. “When my mom (Pam) played basketball, she was a huge defender, so I think at a young age she was kind of ingrained in my head that you had to worry on both ends of the court.”

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