Joen's Late Bucket Helps Top-ranked City High Slip Past No. 2 West Des Moines Dowling in Thriller


Photo by Rob Howe

Susan Harman

Your Prep Sports

IOWA CITY – The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union should bottle this game and save it for the Class 5A state championship. It won’t find anything more fun to watch or more exciting for the fans of the two schools.

Aubrey Joens’ baseline drive to score with 3.7 seconds left gave top-ranked City High a dramatic 75-73 victory over No. 2 Dowling before a large, vocal crowd at City High Saturday afternoon.

“It was exciting; a lot of back and forth; competitive personalities out there,” City senior Aubrey Joens said.

“It was a fun game, two top-ranked teams going after it, a two-point game,” Dowling coach Kristin Meyers said. “This will make us better.”

The first half was played at a frenetic pace even though both teams played games Friday night and had about 17 hours before tipoff.

City High’s biggest first-half lead was seven, but the Maroons were never out of striking distance.

Dowling took its first lead on the last play of the first half when Iowa recruit Caitlin Clark fed reserve post Lexi Boles for a fast-break layup and a 40-39 lead.

The second half was back and forth until the Maroons put together a run late in the third quarter and into the fourth. Ahead 56-55, Clark hit a three from the corner, sophomore guard Emma Gipple scored on pass from the high post and turned it into a three-point play, and then Gipple topped the run with a baseline drive.

City missed three shots in three possessions but did get a free throw from Aubrey Joens, and the Maroons led 64-56.

At the time an 8-point lead seemed insurmountable. After all, Clark, a McDonalds All-American, was on the other team.

“We had to turn it up on defense,” Aubrey Joens said. “We had to get stops if we wanted to get easy baskets on the other end.”

“Our goal is to out-run other teams,” City point guard Rose Nkumu said. “We just had to make sure we were on the same page with each other.”

City High put together a 9-0 run to take a 65-64 lead. Dowling missed three shots in three different possessions and committed two turnovers.

At the other end the Little Hawks got a 3-point play from Nkumu, a spinning basket in transition from Kelsey Joens, two free throws from Nkumu off a fast break and two free throws from Aubrey Joens on a foul in the post.

“We know a team like that is going to hit big shots,” Nkumu said. “We knew the time on the clock and we’ve been in situations where we’ve been down a few, but there was still a lot of time to go.”

“I thought they fought well,” Clark said. “They drove to the basket well and got to the free-throw line. Rose attacked the basket well.”

The nail biting on both sides began in earnest.

With about a minute to play Nkumu got a clear out on a drive to the hoop, and City led 73-70. Dowling looked for a shot, and Clark, who scored 34 points and took 22 of her team’s 55 shots, passed to senior guard Meg Simplot in the corner for a three. Swish. Tie game.

“Yeah Meg Simplot doesn’t even start, but I keep telling them to shoot it, shoot it, shoot it,” Clark said. “She stepped up with confidence and knocked it down for us.”

City took timeout with 21 seconds left.

“We knew we were going to get one shot,” City High coach Bill McTaggart said. He wanted the players to hold the ball and not shoot until 5 seconds or less remained.

Aubrey Joens drove the left side and somehow got the ball to crawl over the rim and into the net.

“We actually were going to wait for a layup, so we were going for a last-second shot,” Joens said. “Rose dribbled to the wing, and I just came off it hard ready to attack the basket knowing that we had to get a shot off.”

Ahead?  “A lot of bodies,” Joens said. “They are tall, so obviously every single time you are attacking there’s someone waiting to step in.”

Dowling had 3.7 seconds left after a timeout. The ball went to Clark and she weaved her way to within 25 feet and let the shot fly, but it was short.

City employed a zone against the sharp-shooting Clark, and McTaggart explained why.

“We played them last year, and my neck was sore from watching her go by me,” McTaggart said. “I said, ‘Next year there’s no way we’re going to go straight man on them.’

“Clark’s a tremendous player, but we made her earn everything she got today.

“I think it helped us tremendously,” Nkumu said of the zone. “She’s an incredible player. You know she’s going to get her points and she made some pretty crazy shots. That’s just what she’s known to do.”

While Clark has faced all kinds of defenses in her four seasons this was a little different.

“Seeing a 1-3-1 was different because we’ve never really seen a 1-3-1, so we were kind of working through that the entire game,” she said.

Clark and her coach both pointed to turnovers as a key issue for Dowling. They counted nine alone in the first quarter.

Dowling (15-3) made 26 of 55 shots and 12 of 29 from 3-point range. Clark went cold in the second half from behind the arc, making just 1-of-7 after a blistering 5-of-6 in the first half.

City (15-0) was 25-of-58 overall and 5-of-17 from behind the arc. City outscored the Maroons by 11 points at the foul line.  Aubrey Joens led City with 27 points, Nkumu had 21 and Kelsey Joens 11.

Dowling         17  23  19  14  –  73

City High       19  20  16  20  –  75

Dowling (73) – Ella McVey 0-6 0-0 0, Caitlin Clark 12-22 4-5 34, Emma Gipple 3-6 1-1 7, Grace Gaber 3-6 0-0 9, Nyajuok Toang 0-0 1-2 1, Lexi Boles 5-8 3-4 13, Meg Simplot 2-5 0-0 6, Julia Moore 1-2 0-0 3, Totals 26-55 9-12.

City High (75) – Rose Nkumu 8-14, 5-5 21, Kelsey Joens 4-7 2-2 11, Ella Cook 3-4 0-0 8, Paige Rocca 0-8 3-5 3, Aubrey Joens 8-20 9-11 27, Eviyon Richardson 2-5 1-2 5, Andie Westlake 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-58 20-25.

3-point goals – WDD 12-29 (McVey 0-5, Clark 6-13, Gaber 3-6, Simplot 2-4, Moore 1-1), ICH High 5-17 (K. Joens 1-3, Cook 2-3, Rocca 0-5, A. Joens 2-6). Total fouls – WDD 20, ICH 11. Fouled out – None. Technical fouls – None.

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