There is no other way to slice it.
When the Iowa and Drake women’s basketball programs face off, the stakes are higher and the meaning is larger within the walls of each program than most of their other non-conference affairs.
With so many sidebars to a rivalry that has been competitive in its history, things won’t be any different today when the 22nd ranked Hawkeyes and Bulldogs and face off from Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.
"The Drake game is more emotional for us because all of us spent time there," said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. "Jan (Jensen) and Jenni (Fitzgerald) were there for eight years, and I was there a decade. That's a long time when you're there for a decade, that's roots you have in a community, school.
"We were a part of the game that opened the Knapp Center. Jan and Jenni played there; Jan has her jersey retired there. This one is always a little more emotional than the other ones, even though I played at UNI. This one has more emotion for me."
Bluder spent 10 seasons as Drake head coach, won 188 games and guided the Bulldogs to three NCAA Tournaments. Jensen and Fitzgerald both played under Bluder and then coached under her at Drake. The current Drake coach – Jennie Baranczyk (Lillis) – played for all three at Iowa and was a four-time letter winner at the school.
"It's hard, because if she was at an Illinois State it would be easier,” said Bluder of coaching against one of her former players. “When you add the rivalry to it ... I'd rather not play her. I'd rather my former players be coaching, and I never have to coach against them. It's not something I look forward to."
But it’s something Bluder won’t be able to avoid as long as Baranczyk continues to guide a Bulldog program that was essentially put on the map by Bluder starting in 1990.
Drake leads the all-time series with Iowa, 24-21, and trails Iowa State, 27-26, and both margins could be in large part to the work Bluder did when she resided in Des Moines.
Bluder has now moved the rivalry needle closer to Iowa City as the Hawkeyes have won 11 straight in the series. Iowa also is looking to improve to 7-0 at home this season and seeking its seven seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance later this year.
"There is added meaning because there is a lot of history, but we view it as another game," said Iowa freshman Ally Disterhoft, whose mother Missy was teammates with Jensen and Fitzgerald at Drake. "We are excited to get back out there on our home court in front of our great Hawkeye fans.”
Another connection to Drake for Iowa is with current forward Claire Till, whose mother Shelley also teamed with Missy Disterhoft, Jensen and Fitzgerald.
Shelley Till is now a broadcaster for the Hawkeye Radio Network and will be on the local TV portion of the broadcast Saturday for Mediacom Connections 22.
"It’s another in-state game," said Claire Till. "It is our last game before break, and it is a big game, like every other game. We have to be focused on playing Iowa basketball."
The Hawkeyes (10-2) are coming off a 13-point loss to then No. 11 Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum. They haven’t played in eight days.
Drake (5-4) has won three straight games and is coming off an 87-71 home win against SIU-Edwardsville on Tuesday. In that game, junior Kyndal Clark scored a career-high 35 points and freshman Lizzy Wendell added a career-high 22 points.
Clark comes into the game averaging a team-high 17 points per game and is 62 points shy of the 1,000 plateau. Wendell also is averaging in double figures, scoring 12.8 points per game. She has reached double-digits in six straight games.
“We have a very unique situation in our state -- we have four Division I basketball programs,” said Baranczyk, who begins her second season at Drake. “Two of those schools are ranked in the top 25 and we all play each other. I think that’s really special. We have to make sure we do our part. When we go Saturday and play at Iowa, we have to do our part in representing Drake University.
“We have to go and make sure we play our very best. Win, lose or draw, we need to go and we need to fight.”
The Bulldogs are averaging 69 points per tilt, shooting 41 percent from the field and connecting on 36 percent of their 3-pointers.
Bluder recognizes that her Hawkeyes have a significant advantage in the paint, but knows her guards can’t give Drake’s backcourt open looks from long range. The Bulldogs make an average of 8.7 treys per game.
"They're a good 3-point shooting team," said Bluder. "They penetrate and pitch very well. We have to identify who their shooters are, which is almost everyone on the court. We have to get out there on the pass and not give up those uncontested 3s.
"We have the height advantage, and we need to use it. At the same time, if they're making 3s, and we're making 2s, that is not a good tradeoff."
Four Hawkeyes are averaging in double-figures, led by Melissa Dixon’s 15.6 per game average. Dixon also likes to fill it up from 3 as she has sunk 31 triples over Iowa’s last six games.
Six-foot-4 junior Bethany Doolittle, who will be one of the Hawkeyes who will have a significant height advantage inside, is second on the team at 14.2 points per game and also grabs 5.8 rebounds.
Junior Samantha Logic averages 13.8 points and a Big-Ten best 6.5 assists per contest. Senior Theairra Taylor has per game averages of 10 points and 4.5 boards.
The offense typically goes as Logic goes. The preseason all-Big Ten selection has scored in double-figures in eight of Iowa’s 12 games but also has dished out at least five assists in nine contests. She has 14 career double-doubles and has started all 77 games of her Hawkeye career.
The next assist Logic delivers will push the junior into second all-time at Iowa. She enters the game tied with Michelle Edwards at 431 career helpers. The all-time leader at Iowa is Cara Consuegra, who finished with 576 in her four years.
Bluder also is closing in on a milestone. She is just nine wins away from becoming Iowa’s all-time winningest coach, passing Hawkeye legend C. Vivian Stringer. Stringer won 269 games at Iowa. Bluder also is just one of 13 active D-1 coaches with at least 600 wins. She is 617-301 in her 30 years as a head coach.
“Every year you get further and further away from it," said Bluder of her time at Drake. "Every year you distance yourself a little more away from it and you need to. You have to because you don't want those types of feelings. I will cheer for Drake every single game of the year except for this one. This one we're out to win."
The first 1,000 fans in attendance at Saturday's game will receive an Iowa stocking. Drake’s last win over Iowa came on Nov. 25, 2001. That was Bluder’s second season at Iowa.
Baranczyk hopes to deliver another Bulldog win over the Hawkeye in her second season at Drake.