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Bulldogs brace for tough December stretch

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Photo: File photo

With Missouri Valley Conference play just over three weeks away, the Drake women’s basketball team is ready to flex its defensive muscle.  Aiming for 40 minutes of consistent defense, the Bulldogs look to enter MVC play on a streak of notable wins.

Tonight’s contest against North Dakota State (5 p.m., Knapp Center) is just the beginning of a critical stretch of games for Drake. Currently 2-4 on the season, the Bulldogs will look to knock down the first domino in a line of difficult opponents when they take on the Bison.

“They’re another tough team,” sophomore guard Alyssa Marschner said.

Marschner, who recorded a career-high 10 points against North Dakota last Thursday, will likely see considerable court time in upcoming games.

At 2-6 overall, the Bison boast two players averaging double-digit scoring this season.  One of those players, Abby Plucker, averages almost 10 rebounds alongside 11.3 points per game.  Practicing this week with defensive improvement in mind, the Bulldogs will likely focus on guarding Plucker both in the paint and on the glass.

Alongside Marschner, Drake features several promising young players in redshirt freshman guard Carly Grenfell and freshman guard Kyndal Clark.  Clark, who was recently named MVC Newcomer of the Week, will likely see significant playing time as well.

Entering December’s key stretch of games, the Bulldogs will look to topple Big Ten powerhouses Wisconsin and Iowa.  Drake faces the Badgers in Madison, Wis., on Sunday.

Following the Dec. 18 game at Saint Louis, Drake will again set its sights on a Big Ten opponent.

The Bulldogs take on the 5-3 Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Dec. 20.  A favorite for Iowa’s Big Four title, the Hawkeyes’ deep lineup includes several players who routinely reach double digits in scoring.

Drake will likely focus its defensive efforts on the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer, Jaime Printy, who averages almost 18 points per game.

With an important month of 2011-12 Drake Basketball just underway, the Bulldogs hope their defensive efforts translate into a win over North Dakota State in tonight’s contest.

“As long as we stick to our guns and play tough defense and stick to our transitions on offense, I think our team can do well and get another ‘W,’” Marschner said.

On the offensive front, the Bulldogs have already buckled down in pursuit of quick, statement-making starts.

“It’s something that we’ve been working on a lot,” senior forward Rachael Hackbarth said following last Thursday’s 70-64 win over North Dakota.

Hackbarth leads Drake in scoring with 16.6 points per game.

With a Dec. 31 game at MVC rival Creighton just around the corner, Drake hopes to enter Omaha, Neb., with a winning record and a winning game plan on New Year’s Eve.

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