Winning five of its last six games, the Loyola women’s basketball team (7-4, 5-2) has moved up to second place in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). The Ramblers are set to host Drake University (8-8, 6-3) — who’s tied for third in the conference — at Gentile Arena Feb. 5-6.
Loyola has risen up the standings in large part due to its defense. The Ramblers have allowed just 57.5 points per game — the fewest points per game of any team in the Valley — and have suffocated teams from beyond the arc.
The Ramblers hold opponents to 23.8 percent from three-point territory. This is the best mark in the MVC and is the eighth-best in Division I out of 336 qualified teams.
However, the Ramblers’ defense will face a formidable test when it faces Drake, who’s among the best offensive teams in the MVC. The Bulldogs lead the conference by a wide margin scoring 78.9 points per game. The gap between Drake and the second-highest scoring Illinois State University is 5.8 points per game — the largest between any two spots in the ranking.
Loyola senior guard Ellie Rice spoke highly of Drake’s offense in anticipation of the series against the Bulldogs.
“Drake’s obviously a great team, [it’s] really fun to play against them,” Rice said. “They move the ball really well in the half court and in transition as well.”
The Bulldogs do a lot of their damage from three-point range, making 8.4 three-pointers per game which ranks second in the MVC. They also boast the second-best three-point percentage in the conference at 36 percent.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter specifically mentioned Drake’s redshirt sophomore forward Grace Berg as a player to watch. Berg is averaging a team-high 16.7 points per game and has scored in double digits in seven of the Bulldogs’ nine conference games this season.
“They’re good, they’ve got a really good transfer in Grace Berg,” Achter said. “She’s just stepped in, it doesn’t look like they’ve missed a beat. That’s what Drake does, that’s why they’re so hard to beat is because they seemingly just have a basketball factory out there in Iowa.”
Loyola women’s basketball is currently 1-14 against Drake all-time — including losing the past 13 matchups between the two schools.
Despite a higher spot in the standings, Loyola is considerable behind Drake in terms of the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) — which is used to help determine at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. Loyola checks in at No. 140, while the Bulldogs have the second-highest NET ranking in the MVC at No. 52.
“We’ve found a little bit of success in spurts against them,” Achter said. “My hope is that our kids, they keep this momentum and they stay locked in to their scout and we continue to prepare like we did. And we make it as interesting as we possibly can, who knows?”
The Ramblers haven’t beaten the Bulldogs during Rice’s time at Loyola, but she said she feels good going into the game after the Ramblers’ start to the year.
“They’ve always been a tough matchup, but I’m really confident going forward,” Rice said. “This start has been really good for us, and I just hope that we can keep this momentum going.”
Both games between the Ramblers and Bulldogs are scheduled to tip-off at 6 p.m. in Gentile Arena. The Feb. 5 game is set to be broadcast on ESPN3 while the Feb. 6 game is set to be on ESPN+.