Photo: Connor McCourtney
The Drake women’s basketball team is down to its last game of regular season play before heading into the State Farm Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. The team had a strong February, going 5-3 on the month. This Saturday, Creighton will be coming to the Knapp Center to wrap up the regular season.
“If we can figure out how to beat Creighton I will feel really good about our regular season,” head coach Amy Stephens said. “We would’ve really ended the season strong, especially considering injuries and health issues.”
Last Sunday, Drake struggled on the road as it lost to Wichita State for the second time this season. Junior Rachael Hackbarth’s 27 points and 15 rebounds were not enough as the Bulldogs lost 72-58.
The team has been without junior Brittnye McSparron the whole season, lost freshman Carly Grenfell after just a few games and most recently lost freshman Angela Christianson, the team’s third leading scorer, all due to injuries.
“The team is really in good spirits despite all the adversity,” Stephens said. “Now we are just one game away from a good conference season.”
Drake was just 3-5 in January before turning things around in February, going undefeated in the Knapp Center and stealing a game on the road against Bradley.
“Our team is really happy with the second half of our conference play,” Hackbarth said. “We have improved a lot from a month ago.”
The team was able to turn play around in games with how they prepared, focusing on better practices and less mental errors.
“The difference between January and February was our practices,” Stephens said. “We were harder working, made some defensive adjustments and really focused on continuing to get better at every facet of the game.”
A win against Creighton this Saturday at home would give the Bulldogs a 9-9 conference record (15-14 overall). Heading into the MVC tournament the team could either be a six or seven seed, depending on how Indiana State and Wichita State finish the regular season. The difference between a six and seven seed would be a play-in game, as the seven through 10 seeds all play a first-round game to join the first through sixth seeded teams in the quarterfinals.
“The key heading down this stretch and into the tournament is staying fresh,” Stephens said. “Part of the battle is your mental focus, and it is a long season. We need to keep our legs fresh and keep being excited to play.”
If only the game was all mental, Drake would be in first place in the conference, as everyone is on the same page and keeping a positive mindset despite two consecutive losses. Senior leader Kristin Turk is confident that the past two losses have had no effect on the team, and the players are where they need to be mentally to take on their upcoming opponents.
“This team has a competitive attitude and we don’t want to give up,” Turk said. “If you have a lot of energy and excitement heading into a tournament, everyone has a chance.”
It is very possible that the Bulldogs will get a second shot at Creighton in the tournament. If the Bulldogs finish seventh and win their play-in game and Creighton finishes second, then the teams would meet in the quarterfinals. Because the highest seed that the Bulldogs would be able to achieve for the tournament is a five, the team would be considered an “underdog” in the tournament.
“That ‘Cinderella Story’ is always appealing to athletes,” Hackbarth said. “We could come into the tournament having no pressure and teams might look past us. If they look past us and think about how they beat us in the regular season, we could take it to them and catch them off guard.”
It would be huge for the Bulldogs to get the sixth seed and avoid the play-in game. The sixth seed plays the third seed, which will most likely be Illinois State. The Bulldogs beat the Redbirds by nine points on Feb. 17 at the Knapp Center. Whichever team the Bulldogs draw in the tournament, the team will be ready to channel its true style of play and see what happens.
“We will need to be aggressive and relentless to make a run in the tournament,” Turk said. “Something that we’ve shown we are capable of.”