Drake women’s basketball is having a season to remember.
The Bulldogs (20-4) have won 14 straight games and are off to the best start in Missouri Valley Conference history, winning their first 13 league games. Until this season, the best start for any team in the conference was 12 straight victories, accomplished three times.
Buoyed by that strong start, they are back in the AP women’s basketball poll for the first time since 2001 – entering the poll at No. 25 on Monday.
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”It’s been a long time. Drake is a special place and this is a special team,” coach Jennie Baranczyk said. ”Does it mean anything, yes, you know you got to get a lot better, the target’s a little bit bigger – especially in our league. It’s quite an honor for us and really fun for our program.”
Drake is led by senior Lizzy Wendell, who has scored in double figures in 102 consecutive games. That’s the longest streak in conference history, surpassing Jackie Stiles mark of 92 when she starred at Missouri State. Wendell’s streak is up there in the college record book, too, though still short of Jantel Lavender’s record 136 set from 2008-11 when she played at Ohio State.
The Bulldogs have five games left in the regular season, with the toughest against Northern Iowa at home on Feb. 24. The two teams played on Jan. 27 and Drake came away with an 88-79 double-overtime victory. No other conference team has come within 10 points this season.
”We have some pretty good teams at the top and that’s who we have left on our schedule,” Barancyzk said. ”Lot of games we need to circle and we are being circled the same as well.”
Drake was last ranked on Dec. 3, 2001. The Bulldogs lasted one week that year. They hope for a longer run this time.
”It’s different when you’re ranked for a week or two then being a top 25 program,” the coach continued. ”Something we understand and get.”
Other things that happened this week:
3-POINT BARRAGE: West Virginia hit a school-record 17 3-pointers in a 79-53 win over Oklahoma State on Saturday. The Mountaineers broke the previous school record of 16 set against Providence in 1996. Tynice Martin led the way for the Mountaineers with 30 points and connected on 7 of 10 from behind the arc. She became the first Mountaineer since Meg Bulger in 2005 to score 30 or more points in back-to-back games. Martin netted 35 in WVU’s 90-87 double-overtime loss at No. 19 Oklahoma and 30 in the Mountaineers win over Oklahoma State.
”Needless to say, it was nice hitting shots,” coach Mike Carey said. ”I mean when you hit shots, everything works so it was nice that we hit shots. I thought we played hard again, played with emotion so that was good to see. Oklahoma State, Jim (Littell), their coach does a great job. We were just hitting everything.”
WELCOME BACK: Suzy Merchant returned from a medical leave of absence to coach Sunday’s game against No. 3 Maryland. The Spartans lost 89-72, but she said afterward she’s been feeling better over the past week. It was her first game back since she coached at Rutgers on Jan. 14.
Merchant fainted during a home game against Illinois on Jan. 1 and was later taken to a hospital for tests and kept overnight as a precaution. She did not coach on Jan. 4 at Purdue before returning for the next three games.
”Everybody always says if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” said Merchant, the Michigan State women’s basketball coach. ”I think as coaches, we go to exhaustion. When I’m getting lectured from (Tom) Izzo about stuff like that, I’m like, `Have you looked in the mirror lately? Have you seen yourself?’
”I just think as coaches, sometimes we get on the treadmill and go a hundred miles an hour and forget about some of the small things.”
BRONZE AGE: Missouri State honored Stiles with a bronze statue outside the arena on Sunday. About 200 teammates, former coaches, donors and others gathered for the unveiling of the statue, which is of Stiles dribbling a basketball. She had 3,393 points in her career at the school to set the Division I career scoring record. Stiles is an assistant basketball coach at the school.
ARRESTED REFEREE: A top NCAA women’s basketball referee has been arrested in suburban Atlanta on two counts of child molestation and one of enticing a child. Fifty-six-year-old Wesley Dean is in custody at the Cobb County Jail. It was unknown if he’s represented by an attorney.
TIP-INS: Baylor forward Nina Davis surpassed the 1,000-rebound mark in her career. She’s the sixth player at the school to do it and the fifth to also score over 2,000 points. … Miami guard Adrienne Motley scored her 1,700th point and moved into seventh on the school’s career scoring list. Joining her this season with over 1,000 career points are teammates Keyona Hayes and Jessica Thomas. It’s the second time in Miami history that the school has three players with over 1,000 points.
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