Nestled neatly between final exams and the holiday break, the non-conference finale for the Iowa women's basketball team comes with all the trimmings of a possible letdown.
Sunday's matchup with Drake is the first game for the Hawkeyes in 10 days and the final game action for the Hawkeyes before heading home for Christmas.
Are there concerns for the possibility of a sluggish pre-Christmas showing by No. 23 Iowa on Sunday?
Is Lisa Bluder worried about her team's focusing heading into Sunday?
Not a chance.
Iowa (8-2) will go for the in-state sweep and the unofficial state title on Sunday when the Hawkeyes to Des Moines for a 2:05 p.m. tipoff against Drake.
The Hawkeyes are 2-0 against in-state foes, knocking off Northern Iowa in November and downing Iowa State 76-67 in their last game.
PREVIOUSLY: Hawkeyes break for finals, prepare for Drake
Bluder said that Iowa's goal of being state champs will help her team stay focused. "I'm glad that there is more meaning to this game than just a road game that is in our non-conference season, I think that it helps that there is a little more emotion when there is an in-state rivalry like there is with Drake."
The meeting with Drake (5-5) is always emotional for the Hawkeyes and their leader Bluder, who spent 10 seasons leading the Bulldogs.
Assistant coaches Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald both played for, and later coached with, Bluder at Drake.
Throw in the added emotions that come with any in-state contest, and the fact that Drake is led by former Hawkeye Jennie (Lillis) Baranczyk and Sunday's game commands instant attention from Iowa players.
"There is definitely something there because our coaching staff originated from Drake," senior Bethany Doolittle said. "They were all there for so many years, they played there so we kind of play this game for them."
Bluder has won 12 in a row over her former team by an average of more than 15 points per game. The Hawkeyes topped the Bulldogs 73-51 last season in Iowa City.
Even with Iowa's recent dominance against Drake the Bulldogs hold a 24-22 edge in the series.
That 24-22 all-time lead is thanks in part to Bluder, who won three of her final four meetings with the Hawkeyes while coaching at Drake.
"It means a lot where our program has come," Bluder said of the 12 consecutive wins. "Ironically Drake is still leading the program by two games so we hope to narrow that by one on Sunday."
In order to win its 13th straight over the Bulldogs and close the non-conference portion of its schedule with a win Iowa will need to earn its first true road victory of the season.
The Hawkeyes fell to then-No. 7 Louisville 86-52 on Dec. 4.
Sunday's contest at the Knapp Center will give Iowa a chance to even that road mark at 1-1.
"The first true road game didn't turn out so well," Bluder said. "So hopefully we have learned from that, hopefully we understand the focus that we have to take on the road with us."
To leave Des Moines with a win Iowa must slow Drake sophomore Lizzy Wendell.
The 6-foot forward is the top scorer in the Missouri Valley Conference at 21.2 points per game and is joined by sophomore Caitlin Ingle (12.4 ppg) and freshman Becca Jonas (11.5) in double figures.
"They are a good team," Doolittle said. "They gave Iowa State a pretty good run in the first half when they played them and I think every year this rivalry is the same as any other in-state rivalry, people always get up for this game and always play their hardest."
Reach Ryan Murken at 339-7369 or email@example.com.
Iowa (8-2) at Drake (5-5)
• Specifics — 2:05 p.m. Knapp Center, Des Moines.
• Following the game — TV: Mediacom (MC22). Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.
• Preview — Iowa coach Lisa Bluder is seeking her 13th straight win over her former school, which is led by former Iowa standout Jennie (Lillis) Baranczyk. Drake has won five of its last seven following an 0-3 start. Iowa has lost its only road game of the season, falling to No. 10 Louisville 86-52.