The holiday break for the Drake women’s basketball team was anything but stale. The Bulldogs went 4-3 overall and started off the Missouri Valley Conference season by netting a respectable three wins and two losses; but in no way does their record tell the story of the trials and tribulations of their holiday trek.
To take the holiday break at a glance in numbers, the Bulldogs took on nationally ranked in-state rival Iowa at home on Dec. 20 and took them to the wire. They ended up losing a hard fought game against the Hawkeyes, 71-75, a game which they led at halftime by six points. Finishing those types of games will put them in the upper echelon of the Missouri Valley, said senior Kristin Turk.
“It is always better to come out on top. You never feel good about a loss but can feel good about competing,” Turk said. “We played a top-20 team to under four points. We can be really proud about our effort.”
After the heartbreaking loss to rival Iowa, the Bulldogs beat Mountain West Conference opponent Air Force at home on Christmas Eve. This was a very special night for Turk, as she became the 21st Bulldog to join the 1,000-point club. She scored a total of 23 points in that game. After the non-conference home stand, the Bulldogs headed to Omaha kicking off their Missouri Valley season with a three-game road trip.
Their first Missouri Valley opponent was the rival Bluejays of Creighton. It would soon prove to not be the team’s night as the players got into foul trouble early in the game. Both Turk and junior Rachael Hackbarth scored 11 points backed up by 10 points each from freshmen Angela Christianson and Morgan Reid.
Drake then traveled to Southern Illinois to take on the Salukis, who had been down as of late. The Bulldogs showed a solid defensive presence against Southern Illinois for a 13-point win. Head coach Amy Stephens stressed that in order for the young team to be successful in the Missouri Valley, they have to play strong defensively and consistently pull down rebounds on both ends.
“The offense will come. That is a common mistake the young players make. How well they play on offense, that’s really maturity,” Stephens said, “but to be a great defensive team, it’s hard. It takes a lot of energy, focus and discipline.”
That offense came for Turk in the following overtime thriller at Evansville, as she scored a career-high 41 points en route to the 69-62 win. Throughout the entire break Turk had been the go-to scorer and Stephens stressed her importance as a senior.
“We have a young team that’s been really competitive, and led by a key senior who has helped prepare us. It’s a pretty young team so I like the fact that we are being competitive,” Stephens said.
Their next contest would be their first Missouri Valley Conference game at home in 2011. The Bulldogs pulled out a close game against the Bradley Braves at home on Jan. 13. By the end of the first half, the 40-22 lead looked to be a blowout. But the Braves crept back in to make it interesting as the Bulldogs won, 68-64.
Their final game of the break was a disappointing loss to rival Northern Iowa on Jan. 15. The Panthers shot the lights out of the Knapp Center with a 67.3 shooting percentage.
Overall the team had a solid winter break, losing two of their games by less than 10 points. The four wins will help propel them into the second half of the MVC season as they look to get into the upper half of the conference. Stephens says despite losing those games the key is to be competitive in all games, and most importantly in the Missouri Valley.
“When you win those games the confidence grows. We want to go further than just getting competitive. We want to finish those games.”