CEDAR FALLS — University of Northern Iowa point guard Karli Rucker closed out her assessment of a 2-0 home weekend in the Missouri Valley Conference on Sunday by expressing confidence in the way her team is playing entering Drake week.
That willingness to tackle a tough challenge will be key at 7 p.m. Friday when the Panthers (10-6, 3-1 Missouri Valley) host a Drake team (12-4, 4-0) that brings a 46-game win streak over league opponents into the McLeod Center.
Rucker set the tone for UNI during a win over Loyola that coach Tanya Warren described as her team’s best 40-minute effort of the season. The sophomore is now averaging a team-best 15.3 points and 4.1 assists to go with 4.1 rebounds.
Drake runs a fluid offense and leads the nation in total assists. Sara Rhine has been named the MVC Player of the Week five times. She averages 18 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists with over a steal and blocked shot per game.
“Drake is a different beast in terms of what they’re able to do offensively,” Warren said. “They’re one of the best at making you guard the cut, the screen and the ball. They move extremely well, all five kids can shoot the 3 and put it on the floor. They do a great job of exploiting mismatches.”
Games have often been closely-contested throughout this rivalry. Drake won by five points in the McLeod Center last season. UNI led late in the third quarter before falling, 75-63, in the championship game of the MVC Tournament.
WRESTLING: Competing back-to-back nights away from home, UNI coach Doug Schwab liked the fight his team showed last weekend.
The No. 14 Panthers defeated South Dakota State, 30-10, before dropping a 22-12 dual at No. 11 Nebraska.
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Up next, UNI will be tested at No. 5 Missouri on Thursday. The Tigers are the highest-rated opponent UNI has faced this season.
“If you want to win duals and duals against a team that’s ranked ahead of you, you’ve got to be able to win some of those close matches,” Schwab said. “The fight and effort and hustle from our guys, I’m happy with that. I think that’s gotten better every time out.”
SWIMMING AND DIVING: UNI’s youth was on display Friday against Iowa Central and Loras before the Panthers’ main lineup won eight of 16 contested events at Iowa State.
Kylie Engstrom set a lifetime best in the 1,000-freestyle by 13 seconds against the Cyclones with a winning time of 10:25.28.
The Panthers host Illinois State in a conference dual at 2 p.m. Saturday.
TRACK AND FIELD: UNI crowned five event champions during Saturday’s Hawkeye Invitational in Iowa City.
Evan Long and Sven Van Den Berg recorded two of the top 10 400-meter times in UNI school history. Hudson native Maddie McCalla set a 55.57-second meet record in the 400, matching where she was at during the end of last year’s indoor season. Charles City native McKayla Cole won the 3,000.
“I’m really pleased with the first meet,” UNI coach Dave Paulsen said. “We want to build each and every week so we’re at our best at the end of February when we host the conference meet.”