By Austin Cannon
One mark of a good basketball team is the ability to win through adversity. The Bulldogs faced such adversity on two particular fronts Sunday against North Dakota. Shots rarely fell and UND trounced Drake on the boards.
Lucky for Drake, UND shot an even worse percentage and committed 20 turnovers that led to 17 Drake points. After the Bulldogs slogged through the second and third quarters, they persevered in the final 10 minutes to go 3-0 on the young season, winning, 73-63.
“Tonight was one of those nights where we just had to gut it out,” point guard Caitlin Ingle said. “It was going to be an ugly win, but we had to do what we had to do down the stretch.”
Ingle was the one who sparked what would be the final blow of this contest of survival. She made a 10-foot jumper from the right side with 4:44 left in the game, giving Drake a 57-54 cushion.
Almost a minute later, UND’s Kelsey Knox was called for a block on Lizzy Wendell in transition. Wendell sank both free throws, the first of her seven unanswered points that gave Drake a 64-54 lead. Wendell finished with 18 points.
UND never got closer than seven after Wendell’s spurt, and the Bulldogs hit their free throws to send the Fighting Hawks home to Grand Forks.
Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk was thankful for her trio of veterans on an otherwise young team: Ingle, Wendell and Maddy Dean. All three scored in double figures — Ingle 16, Dean 13 — in a game in which Drake shot only 38 percent from the field.
“They found other ways, and they found other people,” Baranczyk said.
One of those ways was by forcing turnovers. Wendell, Ingle and Dean combined for six steals, and six fourth-quarter points came via UND turnovers.
“We got a few steals in transition — really changed the momentum of the game at the end there, helped us come out with the win,” Dean said.
After mid-game struggles, that momentum was needed. In the first quarter, Drake looked like the team that beat Wisconsin on Wednesday, surging to a 29-18 lead on 67-percent shooting.
But the basketball gods weren’t as kind for the next 20 minutes of play. The Bulldogs shot 3-for-17 in the second quarter. The halftime break only helped marginally as Drake made only 6 of 20 shots in the third. For the game, Drake shot 2-for-23 from three-point land.
The second of those 3-pointers could not be understated. UND had taken a three-point lead late in the third quarter. Sammie Bachrodt, on her only long-range attempt of the afternoon, sank a three-pointer from the left wing with 1:15 left in the quarter to tie the game at 48.
“I don’t know if the Knapp Center’s ever been so loud when we hit one three,” Baranczyk said. “Good for her for taking it.”
Every team will have at least one game when the ball simply will not go through the net, so Baranczyk wasn’t worried.
“I have all the confidence in the world that every single player on the team has the green light to be able to make those,” she said. “They’re going to fall; sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
It had been going Bulldogs’ way in the first two games, shooting just barely under 50 percent. Sunday’s struggles forced them to adjust.
“I think shots had been falling so far for us, so today was a challenge for us to have to play defensively, up our intensity,” Ingle said.
While the Drake defense forced UND into some tough shots, the Fighting Hawks made up for its 33-percent shooting by dominating the glass. UND out-rebounded Drake 54-35 and scored 16 second-chance points to Drake’s none.
“We didn’t box out well, so they capitalized on that,” Dean said.
“It was really bad, Baranczyk said. “I think that is something that has continued to be our Achilles heel. We’ve got to figure that out.”
Rebounding will a primary emphasis before Tuesday’s game against former MVC rival Creighton at the Knapp Center. The Blue Jays are simply the next up in a line of challenging nonconference opponents.
“They’ve exposed us in the areas that we know we need to get better,” Baranczyk said. “At the same time, for us to be able to gut-out that win, I couldn’t be more proud of our players.”