By Austin Cannon
The matchup at the Knapp Center on Friday night involved two teams on opposite ends of the Missouri Valley Conference spectrum.
A year removed from an MVC title, the Wichita State Shockers are undergoing a massive rebuild after graduation and transfers decimated their roster. With a young team that scores the most points in the conference, the Drake Bulldogs are challenging for the top spot in The Valley.
On Friday the talent discrepancy was on full display. The Bulldogs solved WSU’s defense easily, took advantage of Shocker turnovers and hit the open shot on their way to a leisurely 81-59 victory. It was the first time since 2009 that the Bulldogs swept the regular-season series with the Shockers.
“I think we got better tonight,” Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk said.
Now the attention turns to Drake’s Sunday contest with co-MVC leader Missouri State. The Bears outlasted Northern Iowa in a 78-75 overtime thriller in Cedar Falls on Friday.
This Wichita State team (5-16) bears little resemblance to last season’s 29-5 squad. Seven players departed because of graduation or transfers, including MVC player of the year Alex Harden, who was drafted by the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. Only four players remain from last year’s roster.
The Shockers’ three-quarter-court press failed to challenge the Bulldogs, who broke it so easily and often that WSU abandoned it in the second half. With under a minute remaining in the first quarter, center Emma Donahue took a pass from Caitlin Ingle at half court after Ingle drew two defenders. Donahue then lofted a pass to Lizzy Wendell under the basket for an easy layup. It came in the middle of Drake’s quarter-closing 12-4 run that culminated with a Wendell layup at the buzzer.
After three seasons of playing Wichita State, Ingle was ready to dismantle the Shocker press.
“We went into attack mode and our tempo was really good from the start,” Ingle said.
WSU had to endure scoring droughts throughout, but none was more defining than a nearly six-minute period in the second quarter in which Drake scored 16 points to take a 47-21 lead. Four of those points came from Nicole Miller. She grabbed two steals during the run, one resulting in a layup and the other in two free throws. The freshman guard from Walker, Iowa, finished with 13 points, six rebounds and three steals.
“I’m really comfortable,” Miller said. “Our teammates and coaches do a really good job of just stressing confidence.”
The Bulldogs collected 12 steals when WSU got sloppy, and Drake scored 19 points off 18 Shocker turnovers. Led by Ingle with nine assists, the Bulldogs were also able to control the transition game with 20 fast-break points.
Partly because they were able to break WSU’s press, Drake rarely attempted contested shots. The Bulldogs had open shots both in the paint and on the wing, and they made most of them, shooting almost 57 percent on the evening.
Sara Rhine led all Drake scorers with 16 points. Wendell had 15 while Sammie Bachrodt scored 10.
But it wasn’t all perfect for the Bulldogs, who at one point led by 34. Free throws cost Drake; the Bulldogs made only 14 of 26 attempts. The Shockers also came alive in the fourth quarter and outscored Drake, 20-12.
“We just have to work on playing four quarters,” Ingle said. “I think that’s been our biggest lesson over the last couple games.”
Friday, for all intents and purposes, provided a tune-up for Drake (15-6) before it plays for first place on Sunday against the Bears. The Bulldogs won 82-75 in Springfield on Jan. 8, and Sunday will be the third-to-last Drake home game of the season — one of the last chances to see the Bulldogs play.
“The people that come to see this team play will never get to see this team play again,” Baranczyk said. “That’s the reality of it.”