The Missouri Valley Conference leader will host the league’s hottest team when 25th ranked U.N.I. meets Drake on Wednesday night. At 8-1, the Panthers have a two game lead on Wichita State as the second half of the conference race begins. After an 0-4 start, the Bulldogs have ripped off five straight wins and began the week as part of a four-way log jam for third.
U.N.I. coach Ben Jacobsen says Drake’s seniors are really playing at a high level right now and they have a lot of confidence and that has carried over to the younger players. The Panthers are unbeaten at home this season and have won nine straight in the McLeod Center dating back to a 47-46 loss to Drake last season.
Jacobsen says protecting the home floor is something they talk about allot for a long time and says they have gotten better at that over the last two years. He says it is “extremely important to play well on your home floor.” Jacobsen believes the Valley is good enough to get more than one team in the NCAA Tournament.
U.N.I. was the only Valley team to make it last season and two years ago Drake was the lone entrant. Jacobsen says last year his team did not have a good non-conference start, and that kind of mess up the league after they got going. He says the league is in better position this year to get more than the automatic bid.
Drake coach Mark Phelps says U.N.I. is clearly the team to beat in the league race. He says when people talk about them, you hear they are well-coached and don’t make mistakes. Phelps says they also take advantage of your mistakes, but he says people don’t talk enough about U.N.I’s talent.
Three weeks ago Drake was 5-11 and looked like it was headed toward a lost season. With a win this evening the Bulldogs would move to the .500 mark. Phelps says it’s a huge game because it is the next game and they want to keep the momentum going. He says as an in-state game it gets a lot of attention too and is very important to them.
U.N.I. is 17-2 overall.