Sara Rhine Is Who Drake Thought She Was
Drake's Dominant Scorer Has Stared Down All Her Competition So Far
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The common narrative for starters on NCAA Division I basketball teams is that they were often head and shoulders above not only the rest of the players on their high school teams but most of the players they faced as well. That narrative often translates into those players moving on to the collegiate level to face other players with similar reputations in their communities. Drake forward Sara Rhine is an exception to that norm, however.
The redshirt senior recently played her final regular-season home game for the Bulldogs and proved that she is an exception to that narrative. At the collegiate level, where gaps in skills are often less than those displayed in high school, she has been just as dominant as when she was growing up in Eldon, Mo. For Drake, she has turned out to be exactly who they thought she would be.
Rhine enters the final regular-season game of her collegiate career as one of the country’s most prolific scorers. She leads the nation in points per play (1.27) and is fourth in points per scoring attempt (1.42). Her standard field-goal percentage (65.9%) and percentage on two-point field-goal attempts (70.6%) are both in the nation’s top seven. Rhine says that it’s a result of working to diversify her attack.
“It begins with how much time I've put in during the off-seasons,” Rhine elaborated. “I've been really refining and expanding my game. This is my fifth year in the league so people know I am a scorer and that I'm looking to score. I've been able to use my speed to my advantage. Especially in the post position, I'm quicker than the people I'm going against.”
Photo credit: Chris Donahue, Drake Athletics
Her efficient scoring has earned her a spot on Her Hoop Stats’ list of 10 semifinalists for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award. Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk thinks she’s a perfect fit for the Bulldogs’ motion offense.
“Honestly to me it's been fun because the talent fits into the system very well,” Baranczyk explained. “But you can also bring your own game to the system as well. From that standpoint, it's fun for our players to play.”
Rhine scored her 2,000th collegiate point at home against Valparaiso on Jan. 31, a feat that was matched later in the season by her teammate Becca Hittner. Rhine’s scoring efficiency is best understood in the context of how she plays off her teammates like Hittner.
“Having two players with 2,000 points is pretty awesome and unheard of,” Baranczyk commented. “At the same time, I think the system is one that relies so much on five different people as scoring threats. When we're able to really space that way and look at the game that way the whole game is better.”
The numbers bear out what Baranczyk postulates. Rhine ranks 340th nationally in field-goal attempts and 451st in usage rate, so the fact that she leads the country in points per play isn’t the result of an enormous volume of shots taken. It’s really all about her efficiency when she has the ball. Her ability to maximize her scoring chances is unmatched because her teammates are also potent scoring threats and they play well off each other.
“There isn't a right or wrong,” Rhine said about Drake’s offensive scheme. “You read off of someone else and you make the best play that you can. Now I'm very comfortable with it but also what's cool is that there's always something new and different. It's a lot of fun because it is a lot of creativity all the time.”
Rhine isn’t just a scorer, however. She leads the MVC in total rebounds and currently only Bradley’s Lasha Patree has blocked more shots among players in the conference. Baranczyk states Rhine’s complete game is a result of a similar combination of effort, system and talent.
“From Sara's point of view she continues to work on all aspects,” said Baranczyk. “For her, I think the rebounding piece that she has added especially lately will continue to improve. I think she can still position better on the defensive end and the way that we play defense is similar to our offense in that you have to understand each other.”
Posting her impressive stats and helping Drake notch another 20-win season has not only earned her consideration for the Hammon Award but other considerations as well. She’s also a finalist for the Katrina McClain Award. Rhine has demonstrated an ability to come up big in big games this season to augment her cases for such accolades.
An example of that came against conference-leader Missouri State on Feb. 9. Although the Bulldogs lost to the 21st-ranked Lady Bears, Rhine recorded a double-double with a career-high 31 points. Her 13-of-18 shooting from the field that night was also a career-high. Drake’s hopes for an MVC regular-season crown seem to have been lost with that game but such a performance shows why Rhine is worthy of award consideration.
“Sara is the epitome of a student-athlete,” Baranczyk exclaimed. “She was a first-team Academic All-American last year. She's a 4.0 student. She's been part of our 5,000 hours of community service every year in her collegiate experience and then she's built up to what she's done on the floor.”
While she has a few games left in her collegiate career depending on how far the Bulldogs venture into the postseason, basketball fans won’t have seen the last of her. She plans to play professionally, although she’s unsure of exactly where right now.
“I think it's great you can end up basically anywhere in the world,” Rhine added. “I don't really have anything in mind right now. I'm sure once I get closer to that and get into the process I will definitely have one over the other that I would like to play in.”
If she continues to be as successful as she has been for Drake and Eldon, fans of whatever league she ends up on will be glad to see her. Thus far, she has been as advertised at every level.
All NCAA data are from Her Hoop Stats unless otherwise hyperlinked. 2019-20 data are for games through March 2. WNBA statistics are from stats.wnba.com, and WNBA records are from High Post Hoops’ Kurtis Zimmerman.