Tania Davis discusses the familiarity between Iowa and Drake ahead of Friday's matchup Dargan Southard, email@example.com
In a place where every in-state battle is analyzed and magnified, Iowa’s women’s basketball product certainly hasn’t disappointed this season.
Before the showdowns commenced, you'd have seen three schools ranked in The Associated Press poll for the first time in 20 years. The Hawkeyes and Cyclones followed that with a Cy-Hawk thriller. Drake and Iowa State countered with another unforgettable matchup Sunday, full of offense, lead changes and pivotal runs.
Could the next affair join this group of memories?
On deck is the in-state nonconference finale, as No. 15 Iowa (8-2) and Drake (8-3) tangle Friday night inside the Knapp Center. A packed house is expected. Points should pile up in bunches. The state’s passion and embrace for women’s basketball will be on full display again.
“Both teams play a really fun brand of basketball,” Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle said. “I think it’ll be something the fans really enjoy. Both teams really do play great team basketball, and both programs take great pride in that.
“Should be a really great basketball game.”
From the playing styles to the coaches themselves, it doesn’t take much digging to uncover the web of familiarity intertwining these two programs. Lisa Bluder was the first women’s basketball coach in Knapp Center history. Jan Jensen’s jersey hangs from the rafters there. Jennie Baranczyk earned plenty of Big Ten honors while playing for Bluder and Jensen at Iowa.
Those connections have been in play for a while — Friday marks Bluder and Jensen’s 10th trip to Drake as Hawkeyes and Baranczyk’s seventh time facing her alma mater — but the quirkiness never completely fades away.
“It’s never going to not be weird to do that on a personal level,” Baranczyk said. “But everybody wants to win every game they play, too. We’re all professional and competitive people, and so you play every game to win the game. But you also know that every time any of those (in-state) teams play anybody else, you want them to win.”
Both programs have done plenty of winning through these first six weeks.
Despite back-to-back losses, the Bulldogs are already hunting for their fourth Power Five win — along with a victory over Big East competitor Creighton. Iowa, meanwhile, has mostly delivered on its preseason hype, remaining in the polls throughout a solid nonconference showing.
A win Friday would mark the first time in program history the Hawkeyes have swept their in-state foes in consecutive seasons where they played all three other Division I schools. It'd be a nice historical benchmark, along with rolling into Big Ten play on the right foot.
“That’s be a great experience and a great way to end our senior year,” Hawkeyes guard Tania Davis said. “Obviously, just going through a lot myself and going out there and getting a sweep of the in-state rivals, that would mean a lot. We want to go out there and play this game for our Iowans.”
Drake would love to spoil that feat and surge into the Christmas break. The Missouri Valley Conference grind is up ahead, and the Bulldogs’ target only enlarges with each year of dominance. Diving in after another emphatic win would only fuel the excitement.
“We’re trusting that we have all the pieces,” said redshirt junior forward Sara Rhine, who leads Drake at 18.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. “Those couple of losses should affect how confident we are and what we know we need to do and what we can do.”
With both teams averaging 80-plus points and ranking second and third nationally in assists per game, it’s quite possible some absurd offensive figures will unfold Friday night. A Drake whiteout surrounding a solid black-and-gold pocket should be treated to some fun.
Whatever the result, chalk it up as another win for women’s basketball in Iowa.
“I think it’s going to be a really exciting game,” Bluder said, “and they typically have been over there. … A very difficult matchup for us, but I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere and a great women’s basketball game for the state of Iowa.”
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.