Facing their first losing streak in Missouri Valley play, the Drake Bulldogs turned to one of their upperclassmen leaders.
Junior Lizzy Wendell scored 27 points in 24 minutes to lead Drake to a 91-61 victory over the Loyola Ramblers Friday night at the Knapp Center, ending a two-game losing streak.
After being limited to 14 points a week ago against Northern Iowa, Wendell found open shots with ease, especially in the third quarter. She scored the Bulldogs’ first six points, all on easy layups near the basket.
Her first two baskets came on nearly identical plays. Both times Sammie Bachrodt took the ball on the wing and the Loyola defense would lose Wendell, who would receive the pass on the opposite block and make the wide-open layup. The Bulldogs held a 54-35 lead after her third consecutive bucket to open the half.
“They had to guard all of us tonight, so when you get them on a backdoor (cut) they’re busy guarding someone else and they can’t really help necessarily,” Wendell said.
Wendell’s 3-pointer with 2:32 left in the quarter sparked a 10-0 Drake run that left no doubt. The Bulldogs finished the quarter up 73-46, and she was responsible for 11 points in eight minutes.
For good measure, Wendell, who leads the MVC in scoring, went 3-for-3 on field goals in her short appearance in the fourth quarter. She shot 11-for-17 for the game, 3-for-5 from three-point range, with a pair of assists and five steals.
Wendell was supplemented primarily by Maddy Dean (17 points, eight rebounds) and Sara Rhine (15 points, eight rebounds).
“We feed off (Wendell) a lot,” Dean said. “She’s a great player, so when she gets going it makes the game easier. She’s so fun to play with, and we get open looks because she takes two people and finds ways to score.”
With Wendell only netting two buckets in the first quarter, it was Dean who gave the Bulldogs their first multiple-possession lead of the night.
The Ramblers came out of their timeout with 2:54 remaining in the first quarter, and Dean made a layup off an Emma Donahue assist. Loyola responded with a free throw, but Dean scored the final five points of the first quarter to give Drake a 22-13 lead.
At the same time, Loyola was in the middle of a long drought from the field. Nieka Wheeler’s layup tied the score at 12-12 with 5:03 left in the first quarter, but then the Ramblers didn’t make a field goal for more than six minutes.
Loyola shot 38 percent for the game, but their main problems were turnovers and rebounding.
Drake scored 20 points on 19 Loyola turnovers, 12 of which were Drake steals. The Bulldogs also crashed the boards all night and grabbed 20 more rebounds than the Ramblers.
The Ramblers shot 43 percent in the first half but had 11 turnovers, six of which came on Drake steals.
“I thought we did a really nice job tonight of staying together and playing team defense,” Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk said.
The previous two games had not been kind to Drake. The Bulldogs averaged only 63.5 points and shot 36.8 percent in the losses to Indiana State and UNI. Drake hadn’t won for two weeks, but they scored 91 points and shot nearly 46 percent against the Ramblers.
“What a fun game,” Baranczyk said.
All nine Drake players scored, and no Bulldog played more than 27 minutes. Wendell was only on the floor for 60 percent of the game. Dean played exactly 20 minutes and Rhine only played 18. Wendell might have scored the most, but as Baranczyk said postgame, they depended on all nine active players.
“I think that’s what sets us apart,” she said, “because I don’t think anybody was off the hook or anybody was held to a higher standard this entire week of practice.”
Drake (18-8) swept the season series with Loyola, winning 81-65 in Chicago on Jan. 31. Neither second-place team — Missouri State and Southern Illinois — played Friday, so Drake’s victory pulled the Bulldogs into a three-way tie for second place in the MVC with an 11-4 conference record and three games to go.
The Bulldogs host Bradley on Sunday. The Braves lost 65-41 to first-place Northern Iowa Friday.
Friday also marked the Bulldogs’ annual Pink Game. The players wore all-pink jerseys and fans received pink T-shirts to promote cancer awareness. During a halftime video montage, each player named a friend or family member that was fighting cancer.
“When we wear the pink jerseys, it means a little bit more,” Baranczyk said. “. . . that was definitely at the forefront of what I think we were doing today.”