All that stands between the Drake University women’s basketball team and Missouri Valley Conference history is Illinois State.
The Redbirds face the Bulldogs in a 2 p.m. game Sunday at Knapp Center in Des Moines, Iowa. A Drake win would be its 38th consecutive MVC victory, breaking the record the Bulldogs now share with Southern Illinois at 37 (from 1985-87).
The Bulldogs (20-7, 15-0 in the Valley) need one more victory to claim the outright conference championship. The Redbirds are 13-14 and 7-9 in league play.
ISU coach Kristen Gillespie called Drake “a well-oiled offensive machine. They pass the ball exceptionally well. They have kids at every position that are threats to score. Then they bring in five kids that do the same thing. Their depth is phenomenal.”
Gillespie would not characterize her depth in the same glowing terms, and that was before junior starter Viria Livingston hurt her knee in Friday’s 66-48 loss to Northern Iowa.
“I would be really surprised if she plays (Sunday),” Gillespie said. “That will make the challenge even more interesting. She’s probably our most valuable player when you think about everything she does.”
The ISU coach said she would likely start Simone Goods in place of Livingston, who averages 6.2 points and 6.4 rebounds.
“We’ve got to figure that out and look at different options,” said Gillespie. “We’ve got to figure out a way to keep it as competitive as we can for as long as we can.”
Drake trailed Bradley, 59-55, after three quarters on Friday but rallied for a 77-71 victory. ISU also tested the Bulldogs in a Jan. 26 game at Redbird Arena.
The Redbirds led by one with 6:15 remaining and were tied 54-54 with 3:25 left before Drake claimed a 65-58 triumph.
“For 37 and a half minutes we were right there, then we kind of ran out of gas,” Gillespie said. “It was such an emotional, physical and mental game for us.”
Drake leads the MVC in scoring (82.7), field goal percentage (.486) and 3-point percentage (.370). ISU counters with the Valley’s top scoring defense (54.4) and No. 1 field goal defense (.353).
The Bulldogs have the league’s third and fourth leading scorers in Becca Hittner (15.5) and Sara Rhine (15.1). Rhine is the MVC’s most accurate shooter at 56.7 percent.