CEDAR FALLS — There will be no easing in to Missouri Valley Conference play for Northern Iowa (8-3) women’s basketball.
The Panthers — picked to finish third in the MVC — take on preseason favorite Drake (8-4) Friday at 7 p.m. at the Knapp Center in Des Moines.
Three of the Bulldogs' four non-conference losses were against teams from Power 6 conferences — Purdue, Oklahoma and Iowa. Drake’s offense tops the MVC at 80.2 points per game and its 3-point shooting and assist-to-turnover ratio also sit atop the conference.
“I’ve said in the past (Drake) really reminds me of the (Golden State) Warriors in their ability to score from all five positions,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said.
UNI enters Friday night’s game battle-tested after a tough non-conference schedule that featured seven teams from the Power 6 conferences. The Panthers went a combined 4-3 against those opponents, including wins over Iowa and Iowa State.
“I thought our ability to persevere (was good),” Warren said of the non-conference. “We had a tough loss at Creighton, one in which you look back, we probably should have won. Then, to be able to come back and focus and get ourselves prepared for a very good Iowa State team (was good).”
Warren pointed toward her players' acceptance of their roles having a big impact on the team’s solid start. As a result, the Panthers have been able to play with depth, evidenced by three non-starters being among their top six scorers, including Kam Finley (11.5 points per game), Kristina Cavey (9.3) and Abby Gerrits (5.9).
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Finley — who missed a majority of last season with blood clots in her arm — in particular has provided scoring punch off UNI’s bench while also displaying useful versatility, something Warren covets.
“I think (Kam) having gone through (blood clots), she has a different perspective in terms of her approach to the game,” Warren said. “She’s really bought into playing some backup point and being able to play with Karli (Rucker). But, what you love about Kam is Kam is not afraid of the big moment.”
UNI has lost its last eight games against the Bulldogs with its last win coming on Jan. 24, 2016. According to Warren, a defense-first approach is what it’s going to take to snap the skid against their in-state and conference rivals.
“We’re going to have to make sure we limit (Drake’s) points in transition,” Warren said. “We've got to be able to guard from the 3-point line as well, but we have to be able to defend our one-on-one matchups.”