BY AUSTIN CANNON
Friday night in Cedar Falls was the chance for the Drake women’s basketball team to rebound from an unexpected loss to Indiana State on Sunday and reclaim first place in the Missouri Valley.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage. Drake was doomed by a sluggish start and couldn’t recover in the second half before falling to the first-place UNI Panthers, 85-74. It marked the first time this season the Bulldogs have dropped two consecutive conference games.
Drake sits tied with Missouri State for second in the MVC with a 10-4 conference record with four regular-season games remaining.
After UNI held off Drake in the final moments in their first matchup of the season, the encore — the MVC’s best offense (Drake) against its best defense (UNI) — was expected to be another tight contest.
But it’s hard to imagine the Bulldogs’ first quarter going much worse. They missed their first eight shots, yet they still only trailed 9-4 after Sara Rhine’s nifty post move earned her a layup with five minutes left in the quarter.
In the next 3:27, however, Drake couldn’t buy a basket. The Panthers scored seven unanswered points before Caitlin Ingle swished a 3-pointer with 1:33 remaining. It was Drake’s third and final field goal of the quarter and after the first 10 minutes of play, UNI held an 18-7 lead.
The Panthers were also able to get some open shots over the Bulldogs’ 2-3 zone.
“We just let them kind of dictate and allowed them to do what they wanted and run their sets, and we just didn’t have the presence that we usually have on the defensive end,” guard Sammie Bachrodt said on Monday.
The Bulldogs committed seven turnovers in the first quarter, 10 in the first half, to slow their offense. Drake took care of the ball more in the second period, but the Panthers, led by Stephanie Davison’s eight points, extended their lead to 42-24 at halftime.
Drake was hampered by foul trouble as well with Ingle and Lizzy Wendell picking up their second fouls late in the first quarter. Both of them had to sit on the bench for half of the first 20 minutes of play.
After the dismal first half, the Bulldogs would have to chip away at the Panther lead in the third quarter if they wanted to pull within striking distance and they did start better than they had in the first half, making five of their first six shots. A scoop shot from Rhine got Drake to within 49-37 with 6:37 remaining in the third.
Drake had merely cracked the door open. The Bulldogs couldn’t take advantage of a steal on the next possession and Madison Weekly answered with a deep 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Panthers a 15-point cushion.
The Bulldogs again pulled to within 11 after Rhine made another layup at the 2:25 mark. Again, Weekly responded with a floater at the other end. Then after a turnover from Wendell, Weekly was fouled by Bachrodt and made both her free throws.
With 47 seconds remaining, Weekly hit two more free throws to push the UNI lead to 64-47. Then things got a little interesting.
Ingle drove along the right side of the lane, closely guarded by UNI’s Angie Davison. Ingle went to put up the shot and Davison got a piece of it. Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk thought there was contact and let the officials know it, earning a technical foul.
While the officials recorded and discussed the technical, Baranczyk turned to the large contingent of Drake fans sitting behind the Bulldogs’ bench and demonstratively urged them to stand up and cheer.
“(I was) just trying to get out team going a little bit more,” Baranczyk said. “I want us to compete a little bit more; I want us to fight a little bit more … We can show that in the best way that we can, and we had a phenomenal crowd there.”
Stephanie Davison made one of the resulting free throws, and Weekly followed with another jumper to stretch the lead to 67-47. Ingle got to the line to make a pair of free throws with 3 seconds left to end the 9-0 Panther run, but the 18-point deficit that remained after the first half still occupied the scoreboard after three periods.
Drake (17-8) again started to eat into the UNI lead in the fourth, but the Panthers would always answer.
A Wendell jumper cut the lead to 12, but Stephanie Davison responded with a short jumper of her own. Another Rhine layup would bring the Bulldogs to within 11, but Davison, who finished with 19 points, hit a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession. Rhine followed with two more free throws, but then Jen Keitel predictably hit a wide-open elbow jumper to make the score 78-65 with 3:19 remaining.
The Bulldogs were doing a fine job scoring — 50 points in the second half — but they couldn’t slow the Panthers down enough.
“I just don’t think we got stops,” Bachrodt said. “Usually we have momentum coming from that side of the floor to where we can push into our transition game. I think we lacked that on the defensive end, which didn’t allow us to flow into our offensive game.”
In a game they never led, the closest the Bulldogs got to the Panthers in the second half was 11 points.
“We’re a very young team, but we have to make sure we value both sides of the ball,” Baranczyk said. “We have to value the offensive end and we have to value the defensive end.”
On the night, the Bulldogs shot 51 percent from inside the three-point line, but to make a double-digit comeback, most teams will rely a lot on three-point shooting. That club simply wasn’t in Drake’s bag on Friday.
The Bulldogs shot 3 of 16 from behind the arc, the final conversion coming from center Emma Donahue — who made two on the night — with 9:11 left in the game.
“We weren’t making those reads on the screens that we can usually get open for threes on some of those,” Wendell said. “I just don’t think we were communicating them enough to where we could get in a three.”
Ingle led Drake with 19 points, and Rhine recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards. Weekly led the Panthers with 22 points on 7 of 13 shooting and a perfect 6 of 6 from the free-throw line.
The next two weeks will have major implications on the seeding for the MVC tournament in March. Drake hosts Loyola next Friday and plays Bradley on the following Sunday. The season concludes with games at Evansville and Southern Illinois.
For a chance at the MVC title and the No. 1 tournament seed, the Bulldogs will have to post good results over the final four games after Friday’s defeat.
“We’re not going to let this one go by without learning what we need to learn,” Bachrodt said. “And that our focus, just getting better for the postseason.”