ONLINE EXCLUSIVE BY ADAM ROGAN
Drake Women’s Basketball will advance to the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament semifinals with its 64-40 win over the Illinois State Redbirds on the afternoon of March 10.
It was the Bulldogs’ 20th straight win and keeps them perfect in the MVC this season.
The Bulldogs, ranked 20th in the nation and first in the MVC, struggled offensively in the first two quarters. Despite earning some good looks — ISU offering open shots outside of its 2-3 zone — the Bulldogs couldn’t get them to fall. They started 3-14 from the field.
A late three from freshman Becca Hittner gave Drake an 11-4 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Even if the Bulldogs had nearly tripled the Redbirds’ scoring in the period, it was still closer than expected. When Drake and ISU last met two on Feb. 10, the Bulldogs had a 24-10 lead after the first 10 minutes. That game ended 101-49.
Sophomore Nicole Miller gave Drake a spark in the second quarter that helped her team retain the lead. Coming off the bench, she started 3-3 with two threes. At halftime, she was Drake’s leading scorer with eight.
The rest of the Bulldogs were struggling to score. Senior Lizzy Wendell only had six. She was shooting 3-11 from the floor and had missed all four of her 3-point attempts after 20 minutes.
Six of ISU’s first 13 points came off of turnovers. At halftime, Drake had already committed eight turnovers, only one less than ISU. Drake was also being outrebounded 25-22 through 20 minutes. The Bulldogs’ lead was slim, 20-18.
“We’ve got to have better player movement,” head coach Jennie Barancyzk told The Valley on ESPN3 at the break. “We’re giving up too many offensive boards … We kind of have to settle down and we kind of have to get more aggressive at the same time.”
To start the second half, Drake started to prove why it’s the best in the conference.
A steal led to a Sammie Bachrodt jumper to open up scoring in the half. Wendell sunk a layup with a foul less than a minute later. After another ISU turnover, Ingle drove the lane and sunk a layup, followed by a free throw to complete the 3-point play.
The lead was nine. Although ISU drained a three on its next possession, the Bulldogs wouldn’t let the Redbirds draw much closer.
In the first half, Drake only had eight points in the half. Six minutes into the third quarter, that mark had already been matched.
By the end of the third quarter, Drake held an 18-point lead and the game was effectively over.
Wendell led with 17 points. Hittner wasn’t far behind with 14 thanks to a field-goal percentage of 66.7. Bachrodt was the third Bulldog in double-digits with 12.
Defensively, the Bulldogs heckling defense put the Redbirds away. Drake only had six second-half turnovers; ISU gave the ball away 12 times.
Senior Caitlin Ingle put in another all-around performance. She finished with five points and teams-highs of five rebounds and six assists.
Ingle is also only six assists away from the all-time Drake record in career assists.
Drake will play either no. 4 Southern Illinois or no. 5 Wichita State in the conference semifinals on March 11 at 1:30 p.m. That game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
A win would send the Bulldogs to the conference championship for the first time since 2014.
Winning the tournament would guarantee a seed in the NCAA Tournament, although the team’s current top-25 ranking should qualify DU to the big dance regardless.