AMES — When the Iowa State women’s basketball team returns to the floor on Sunday at Hilton Coliseum (12 p.m. on Cyclones.tv), the Cyclones will be facing off with Drake in what could be their biggest non-conference game of the season.
Though the Bulldogs are coming off a loss that knocked the team out of the top 25, Drake has proved itself over the years as a perennial contender in women’s basketball.
“Drake is probably the best team that has come into our building this year,” head coach Bill Fennelly said following Iowa State’s last game against North Dakota.
The Bulldogs are coming off of two straight undefeated seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference that saw the team qualify for the NCAA Tournament – something Iowa State wasn’t able to do last season.
Overall, since Jennie Baranczyk took over the program six seasons ago, Drake is on a steady, fast-paced rise to the top, and the in-state rivalries are games where Drake has gained momentum from the result.
After their loss to the Cyclones two seasons ago, Drake lost just two more games in the regular season and went on to beat Iowa.
“It’s a big game,” Fennelly said. “Number one, it’s a home game. Number two, it’s an in-state game. Drake’s been [ranked] the last few weeks, and it’ll be a great challenge for our team. It’ll be a conference game kind of feel to it as far as how you prepare – can you play at a high level against a quality opponent?”
In the Iowa State-Drake series, the home team has won each of the past four games, including the Bulldogs taking a 73-70 nail-biter in the Knapp Center last season.
Iowa State’s Bridget Carleton admitted that at first she didn’t know what to think about the games the team plays against the rivals inside of the border but as she has progressed through her career, she has grown to realize the importance of the rivalry games.
“I didn’t understand the rivalry, I didn’t really understand any of it,” Carleton said. “But in my first couple of games as a freshman, you can just tell how much [these games] mean to everybody. I think that it’s great for women’s basketball in the state of Iowa. Having four great division l teams in the state is huge for Iowa. It’s super fun to be a part of.”
Drake comes into this game playing a zone defense, so the Cyclones will have a big focus on finding open shots and cashing in on the opportunity.
That will give Iowa State’s shooters, like Adriana Camber, a big opportunity to show off what they can do.
“Usually [there will be more 3-pointers shot in a game against the zone],” Camber said. “We’ll try to open up the floor and if we get looks we’re going to take them.”
For Camber, it’s been an up-and-down season, though in a small sample size.
She’s scored anywhere from zero points in two games – including Iowa – to scoring 15 against Eastern Michigan. The Sweden native is now just focusing on being ready.
“Just be ready,” Camber said. “You never know when you’re going to be open. [As a shooter] I have the most fun playing against the zone…We’re really excited. It’s always fun to play at home with an in-state rival. Plus, Drake is a great team so that’s going to be good.”