Unpredictable comebacks, a heartbreaking overtime loss and a record-breaking performance framed an exciting weekend on the road for Drake. Facing two Missouri Valley Conference rivals in just three days, the Bulldogs experienced a barrage of basketball’s highs and lows last weekend.
Last Friday, Illinois State dealt Drake a devastating 71-67 overtime defeat. Just two days later, senior Rachael Hackbarth played the best game of her career to lift the Bulldogs past Indiana State, 67-59.
Another MVC opponent, Bradley, comes to town tomorrow, and the Bulldogs are ready to storm the Knapp Center. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.
For the Bulldogs, purposeful possessions will be key against an experienced Bradley lineup.
Leah Kassing, just one of the Braves’ five seniors, leads the team in scoring, averaging 15.1 points per game alongside 8.8 rebounds. Junior Katie Yohn also contributes a double figure average for Bradley at 12.6 points per game.
Besides a seasoned roster, the Braves average a whopping 68.8 total points per game compared to Drake’s average of 58.8 points per game.
Despite a 2-5 MVC record, the Braves pose a particular offensive threat: the 3-pointer. The Bulldogs look to keep a close defensive eye behind the arc against a Bradley team that is shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point land.
“Bradley is a really good basketball team,” Drake head coach Amy Stephens said. “I’m really surprised at their conference standing right now. They can beat anybody in our league. When they can shoot the three well, nobody in our league is going to beat them.”
Hackbarth looks to carry the momentum of Sunday’s record-breaking spectacle into tomorrow’s game. After boasting a career-high 32 points and adding 12 rebounds against Indiana State, she continues to ascend Drake’s all-time scoring list.
With the home stretch of her senior season just underway, Hackbarth said that she knows Bradley’s basketball bag is full of tricks.
“They have inside presence,” she said. “They always play hard. They usually have a deeper bench.”
Beyond smart shooting and watchful defense, the Bulldogs look to control their own destiny on their own court.
“Of those seven conference games, five have been on the road,” Stephens said about the MVC season so far. “It’s critical we protect our home court and get wins. We control our own destiny. You have to win your home games if you’re a top conference team.”
Tomorrow night’s MVC showdown kicks off a four-game Knapp Center swing for the Bulldogs, who are 10-8 overall and 4-3 in conference play.
For Hackbarth and the Bulldogs, the fans are more than a band of blue shirts with school spirit. The fans are members of the team.
“They’re always a huge help,” she said. “We always call them our sixth man because they bring us a lot of energy. We hope to protect our home court.”
A critical step toward victory is a quality week of practice.
“We just need to create a competitive environment in practice, and when we do that, our team will continue to improve, and our confidence gets higher and higher,” Stephens said.
Her players understand the importance of positive practice as well.
“We have to start off with a strong practice,” Hackbarth said. “If we don’t practice strong, it usually carries into the game.”
The Bulldogs know that defense is key against a dangerous Bradley offense.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Stephens said. “If we play well, we’ll win. If we play flat, we’re going to get beat.”