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Bulldogs eager to take on explosive Missouri St.

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Photo: Alex Masica

There are 31 days in the month of January.  Just don’t tell that to the Drake women’s basketball team.  The Bulldogs look to erase Jan. 7 from their memories when they take on Missouri State tonight at the Knapp Center. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.

On Jan. 7, the Bears dealt Drake a devastating 32-point defeat at Missouri State, the Bulldogs’ largest loss of the 2011-12 season. Needless to say, Drake is eager for tonight’s second chance.

Missouri State’s deep roster features three players averaging double-digits in points. Casey Garrison, the preseason pick for Missouri Valley Conference player of the year, averages 17.8 points per game alongside 5.9 rebounds.

Garrison isn’t the only threat from the Bears, though. Missouri State’s Christiana Shorter boasts 13.5 points per game, followed narrowly by Jaleshia Roberson’s 11.8 points per game.

The Bulldogs look to counter the Missouri State attack by playing strong defense.

Besides strong defense, Drake’s improved, efficient offensive will be key tonight.

The Bears average 73.9 points per game compared to the Bulldogs’ 60.7 points per game. Following a rocky offensive start to the 2011-12 season, head coach Amy Stephens is confident that her team can outscore and outlast the Bears.

“We focus so much on our defense through this time of year, it takes our offense a while to get going,” Stephens said.  “You’ve got to be able to score the ball, and we’re doing that now.”

Despite Missouri State’s deep lineup, Drake’s offensive threat is far from one-dimensional, Stephens added.

“Morgan (Reid) is scoring for us,” Stephens said. “Amber (Wollschlager) is scoring for us. Now, we’re not so one-dimensional. We have other players.  Obviously, Rachael (Hackbarth) is the key leader and centerpiece.”

Averaging a whopping 19.3 points per game alongside 10.8 rebounds, Hackbarth is making a run for MVC player of the year. Battling for the MVC’s highest team honor as well as the MVC’s highest individual honor, Hackbarth and Garrison add a dual-rivalry to tonight’s game.

Following Sunday’s 82-77 overtime defeat to Northern Iowa at the Knapp Center, Drake looks to finish its four-game home swing on two positive performances.  After the Bulldogs take on Missouri State tonight, Wichita State, the MVC’s top team, travels to the Knapp Center on Sunday.

Though two challenging opponents await Drake, Stephens is ready for her team’s positive practice to pay off on the court.

“We’re just getting better and better,” she said.  “We’re improving.  Offensively, we struggled so badly early in the season. Now we’ve really hit stride. It’s been really fun to watch.”

The Bulldogs are 11-9 overall and 5-4 in the MVC, a record identical to Creighton. Sitting in a game out of second place in the MVC standings, the Bulldogs look to make the regular season’s final weeks count. Playing nine games versus nine different opponents in just one month, Drake’s regular-season home stretch demands continued improvement.

“There’s still a lot of basketball to be played,” Stephens said.  “I just wouldn’t overlook anybody in our league.”

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