Reflection will have to wait.
“We’re not in that mode yet,” Drake University women’s basketball coach Jennie Baranczyk said. “We’re still focused on being the best we can be in practice and in games.”
As dominant as the Bulldogs have been in the Missouri Valley Conference the last two-plus years, their postseason fate is anything but guaranteed.
In fact, the MVC is likely a one-bid league for the NCAA tournament, with an automatic berth going to this week’s conference tournament champion. And that’s it.
“We can’t worry about the NCAA,” senior Paige Greiner said. “In our opinion, we still have three games to win before we can think about it.”
It begins for the Bulldogs (23-7) at noon Friday, when they face Valparaiso (12-17) or Loyola (7-22) at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill.
The tournament begins with first-round games Thursday. Quarterfinals are Friday, semifinals Saturday and the championship game at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“We’re excited to play again,” said Baranczyk, whose team last played Saturday, when it concluded its second straight 18-0 MVC slate. “We’ve been watching the other conference tournaments, and we’re eager to get back on the court.”
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Drake has been the class of the MVC recently, winning 40 consecutive conference games, plus last year’s MVC tournament. The Bulldogs have continued to roll this season despite the graduation of prolific scorer Lizzy Wendell and dynamic playmaker Caitlin Ingle.
“We rely more on depth this year instead of just one or two people so much,” Nicole Miller said. “We’re still really fast-paced, but I think we’re focused more on defense than we’ve been.”
Nine players log at least 15 minutes per game. That includes all-MVC first-team selections Sammie Bachrodt, Becca Hittner and Sara Rhine. And it also includes Miller (a junior and former Miss Iowa Basketball at North Linn) and Greiner (a Williamsburg native and the team’s lone senior).
“The depth this team has, it’s special,” said Baranczyk, now in her sixth year at Drake, which includes four consecutive 20-win seasons. “They’re all a year older now.”
Baranczyk said Greiner “has done an unbelievable job leading this team,” and called Miller “one of the best guards in the conference. Her energy and her bounce are huge for us.”
The Bulldogs haven’t lost since Dec. 21, when they fell at Iowa.
“The plan is to win three more, then see where that takes us,” Miller said.
Northern Iowa (17-12) is the No. 3 seed in the tournament, and concludes the quarterfinal round at 8:30 Friday night against Illinois State (14-15). UNI sophomore Megan Maahs (Western Dubuque) earned first-team MVC honors.
MVC women's basketball tournament
At Moline, Ill. (TaxSlayer Center)
Thursday’s First Round
#8 Valparaiso (12-17) vs. #9 Loyola (7-22), 4 p.m.
#7 Bradley (12-17) vs. #10 Evansville (3-26), 7 p.m.
#1 Drake (23-7) vs. Valparaiso/Loyola winner, noon
#4 Southern Illinois (16-13) vs. #5 Indiana State (11-18), 2:30 p.m.
#2 Missouri State (19-10) vs. Bradley/Evansville winner, 6 p.m.
#3 Northern Iowa (17-12) vs. #6 Illinois State (14-15), 8:30 p.m.
Top bracket, 1:30 p.m.
Bottom bracket, 4 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 2 p.m.
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