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Bulldogs bounce Bradley, tied for 3rd in MVC

A tie game typically marks a tense, now-or-never moment.  Last Friday night, however, the Drake women’s basketball team earned a tie worth celebrating.

The Bulldogs’ 77-62 victory over Bradley catapulted Drake into a three-way tie for third place in the Missouri Valley Conference.  The game marked the first of a four-game Knapp Center swing for the Bulldogs, who shot 48.1 percent from the floor.

Bradley powered a 9-0 run to open the first half, keeping Bulldog fans on their feet for almost three scoreless minutes.

“It’s frustrating, but we know that the game is a game of runs, and they’re going to come out excited to play,” senior forward Rachael Hackbarth said.

Despite a couple of early turnovers, Hackbarth’s positive mindset prevailed. With 23 points and 13 rebounds, she earned her twelfth double-double of the 2011-12 season.

“I just play with the mindset that I’ve got to get it back on the next play,” she said.  “If I make a turnover or miss a box out, I’ve got to get it back on the next play, and I can’t let that hold me back for the rest of the game, and (I) kind of just play to my ability.  I’m the only one who stops myself.”

Senior Amber Wollschlager’s jump shot swished through the hoop to narrow the Braves’ lead to a single possession for the first time at 11-9.  Bradley wasn’t ready to squander its advantage just yet, though.

The Braves maintained control until junior forward Stephanie Running netted a layup to even the score at 17.  Bradley’s Kelsey Budd missed a key layup, giving the Bulldogs an opportunity to capture the lead.

Drake didn’t waste any time, edging the Braves on a Hackbarth jump shot for a 19-17 advantage.

Bradley’s early run was but a blip on the radar after senior guard Brittnye McSparron and Hackbarth combined for two consecutive Drake tallies, extending the lead to 25-20. McSparron finished with 11 points and seven rebounds.

The first half’s final minutes ticked away, and Drake entered the locker room with a 29-24 advantage.

Starting the second half with a statement was essential for Drake, and the duo of sophomore Morgan Reid and freshman Kyndal Clark recorded back-to-back baskets for a 35-26 lead.

Clark’s first bucket didn’t fall until 18:38 was left in the second half, but the dwindling time didn’t stop her offensive stride.  She scored all of her 17 total points in the game’s final 19 minutes and was 6-of-6 from behind the line.

“I just didn’t want to leave today feeling any regret, and not that points say that, but we were all ready to be in the top three or top two, and in order to do that, you have to make a statement,” Clark said.  “I was not happy that I had two offensive fouls in the first half. Who would be? So I just tried to come out in the second half with an attack mentality.”

Bradley’s Katie Yohn drowned a 3-pointer to pull the Braves within six at 35-29.  Then, Wollschlager sunk two successive shots to give the Bulldogs their first double-digit edge at 39-29.

Drake just couldn’t shake Bradley’s offense, though, as the Braves cut the lead to 41-38.

With Bradley just one possession away from evening the scoreboard, the Bulldogs handed the ball to Hackbarth.

Bradley’s bench watched in dismay as Hackbarth erased the team’s offensive run on back-to-back baskets and a free throw, lifting the Bulldogs’ lead to 57-46.

The clock ticked away as Bradley frantically fouled the Bulldogs, who shot 26-of-32 from the free throw line. Two Clark free throw shots completed a 77-62 victory.

The Bulldogs are 11-8 overall and 5-3 in the MVC. Drake’s next three conference contests are on Ron Pearson Court. Needless to say, Drake is optimistic and ready to make a statement.

“We’re excited about where we’re at and where we’re progressing, and we’re hoping to make some noise and keep shaking things up,” Clark said.

For Drake head coach Amy Stephens and her players, last Friday’s effort displayed the power of defensive focus.

“We did a great job of guarding the 3-point line,” Stephens said.  “That was the number one key of the game.  We could not let them get comfortable behind the 3-point line.”

Hackbarth also said that the team’s defense was essential in the victory.

“It had to be a team defense thing,” Hackbarth said. “We couldn’t go one-on-one defense because we wouldn’t be able to stop them. They’re a good enough team to make us pay.”

Ultimately, the Bulldogs look to move forward and turn some heads in the MVC.

“January, in the past years, has always been a tough month for us, and we’ve always kind of gotten better in February, but to finish January where we’re at is really positive,” Hackbarth said.  “Preseason picked us seventh in the conference, so we have a chip on our shoulder because we want to prove that we are top three.”

The Bulldogs took on Northern Iowa yesterday, and details from that game will be available in the next issue of The Times-Delphic. Drake takes on Missouri State on Thursday at the Knapp Center. Tip-off is set for 7:05 p.m.

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