The Drake Women’s Basketball team entered Ron Pearson Court with energy, determination and a game plan on Friday night. The team was ready to earn their first win of the season. Toppling the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee by double digits, the Bulldogs gained the 63-51 victory.
After Tuesday’s collapse in the final minutes against Iowa State, the Bulldogs aimed not only for the basketball hoop, but for 40 minutes of consistent, patient play.
Nabbing the opening tip, the Bulldogs wasted no time on offense as senior forward Rachael Hackbarth recorded a layup accompanied by a Panther foul. She sank the free throw to give Drake an early 3-0 advantage. Her offensive efforts prompted an 11-2 Drake run, giving the Bulldogs confidence they desperately needed, she said.
“Coming out those first nine minutes strong gave us a lot of confidence,” Hackbarth said.
Fueled by the early lead and the crowd, the Bulldogs widened the gap to 22-9 on a 3-pointer by senior guard Brittnye McSparron.
McSparron and freshman guard Kyndal Clark each added two 3-pointers in in the game. Redshirt freshman guard Carly Grenfell also chipped in a three en route to 5 of 13 shooting from behind the arc.
The Panthers tallied five straight points to end the first half, narrowing the Bulldog lead to single digits entering the break, 30-22. An unnerving reminder of Iowa State’s comeback effort last Tuesday, Drake was determined to play a strong second half and focus on consistent shooting and improving its zone defense.
“We had ups and downs. The end of the first half, we let them catch back up,” Hackbarth said.
The Panthers’ surge was just a blip on the radar to start the second half, though, as Clark and McSparron sank consecutive threes for a 36-22 lead. A basket by senior guard Amber Wollschlager gave Drake its largest lead at 59-40, and the rest was history.
Using the shot clock to their avail as the minutes ticked away, the Bulldogs relied on several Panther misses and two Hackbarth baskets to complete the first win by a score of 63-51.
Hackbarth, who is 22 on Drake’s all-time scoring list, was honored for her milestone of 1,000 career points at Friday’s game. With a team-high 20 points against Milwaukee, Hackbarth’s conditioning, readiness and consistency made her an asset to the team, according to head coach Amy Stephens.
“This year, she came in in great shape. She’s been by far the most consistent player on our team,” Stephens said. “At practice, she’s ready to go. We just need other people around her to step up so we can create that balance.”
Even though her Drake Basketball career is just underway, Stephens and the Bulldogs look to Clark for just that balance. With consistent shooting skills, an athletic presence and leadership abilities beyond her years, she is off to a promising start, said Stephens and fellow teammates.
Clark is expected to make critical plays and shoot consistently this season.
“Kyndal (Clark) has played really well, especially shooting the basketball,” Stephens said. “She struggled through the two exhibition games, but tonight and against Iowa State, she shot the way we knew she could shoot.”
“Especially in the Iowa State game, it was important for her (Clark) to get a game under her wing where she can gain confidence in herself,” Hackbarth said. “She can be a huge key in this game, both on defense and offense.”
McSparron also reached double digit scoring on Friday night with 14 points. Entering the Bulldogs’ trip to Cancun, Mexico for the Triple Crown Cancun Challenge, McSparron knows how critical the win over Milwaukee was.
“I just felt we were really hungry as a team. We kept saying: ‘We need to get this win, we need to get this win,’” McSparron said. “Especially going on the road to Mexico, we didn’t want to go on the road 0-3.”
“It’s nice to see that zero gone off our record,” added Stephens. “Our opponents are not getting any easier. We’ve got two really good teams to try to beat down in Mexico.”
Facing two tough teams in Marist and Hofstra, the Bulldogs look to carry their momentum into the upcoming non-conference tournament, which runs through Friday. The Bulldogs take on Marist at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.