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Drake denied MVC three-peat

Missouri St wins rubber match over No. 21 Bulldogs, 94-79

AP PHOTO BY JESSICA GALLAGHER/THE DISPATCH - Drake’s Becca Hittner (5) has her shot attempt blocked by Missouri State’s Jasmine Franklin (32) during the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game Sunday at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline, Ill.

MOLINE, Ill. — Only twice in its last 67 games against Missouri Valley Conference competition has the Drake women’s basketball team been defeated.

Missouri State has now accounted for both.

The Lady Bears got a career-high 30 points from junior guard Alexa Willard and second-seeded Missouri State stifled the two-time defending conference champions, knocking off top-seeded Drake 94-79 on Sunday in the MVC title game inside the TaxSlayer Center.

In a rubber match between the top two teams in the Valley, Missouri State (23-9) shined brightest when it meant the most. The Bears earned their 11th MVC tournament title in school history, denying No. 21 Drake (27-6) a three-peat in convincing fashion.

Missouri State outscored Drake 47-25 during the second and third quarters to take a 21-point lead that withstood the Bulldogs’ 32-point fourth-quarter surge. Drake got as close as nine, 83-74, with 1:55 left to play, but the Lady Bears shot 17-of-22 from the free-throw line in the final period to finish off the victory.

“Obviously we are thrilled, it was an emotional game and an emotional weekend,” said MSU head coach Kellie Harper. “This is such a good basketball team we beat, but today was our moment and our players stepped up and did what they needed to do.”

None more than Willard, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. She shot 11-for-20 from the field with four 3-pointers, scoring 15 points in the third period alone including the team’s final seven to take their lead to 21.

Drake tried relentlessly to rally in the fourth but had already dug itself into too deep a hole, piling up 24 turnovers in the team’s first loss since Missouri State knocked them off at home on Feb. 1.

“We’re going to dwell on this a little bit, we’re going to feel this one a little bit and we have a little bit of time,” said Drake head coach Jennie Baranczyk. “Again, it’s not about the outcome, it’s not about the scoreboard — it never has been for us — it has always been about how we play. We didn’t get to play the way we wanted to play and part of that is you credit your opponent and the other part is we’ve got to figure some things out.

“If we’re going to learn and figure some things out then we’re going to be very dangerous in the tournament.”

Missouri State secured the automatic berth into the NCAA Women’s Tournament with the win, while Drake will await an at-large bid during tonight’s selection show. The Bulldogs entered the championship game with an RPI (rating percentage index) of 16, making them one of the top teams in the country, though they were unable to prove it on Sunday.

“I think we’ll take this one, reflect, we’ll definitely learn from it,” said Drake senior point guard Sammie Bachrodt. “It wasn’t us, I think we all know that. Losing sucks but you learn from your mistakes, we’re all going to sit and reflect and get better individually and collectively. I’m very confident in that.

“The last time we lost to Missouri State we became so much closer and we got so much better, and that’s what’s going to happen this time.”

Drake made six 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, the last by two-time MVC Player of the Year Becca Hittner to give the Bulldogs a 22-21 lead. Missouri State scored the first six points of the second and never trailed again. Sydney Manning’s 3-pointer beat the halftime buzzer to make it a seven-point game, 42-35, and the Bears outscored the Bulldogs 26-12 in the third quarter.

Manning contributed 14 points off the bench, Brice Calip added 13 and lone senior Danielle Gitzen finished with 12 for the Lady Bears.

“I’m so excited for all of my teammates who haven’t been [to the NCAA Tournament] to experience this feeling and experience the feeling [Monday] when our name pops up,” said Gitzen, who was a starter as a freshman the last time Missouri State made it this far.

Gitzen joined Willard, Hittner, Bachrodt, and Northern Iowa’s Karli Rucker on the all-tournament team.

Bachrodt ended with 18 points, seven assists and four steals, while Hittner added 16 points. Sara Rhine had 14 points and seven rebounds and Monica Burich contributed 11 points and six boards off the bench for the Bulldogs.

“I don’t think we quit, so that part’s really good,” said Baranczyk, “and we still have a really bright season ahead of us so we will be anxiously awaiting [Monday] and we will be ready to represent this conference.”

Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament

At The TaxSlayer Center, Moline, Ill.

First Round

Thursday, March 14

Valparaiso 79, Indiana St. 77

Loyola 90, Evansville 80

Quarterfinals

Friday, March 15

Drake 86, Valparaiso 58

Illinois St. 61, Bradley 55

Missouri St. 59, Loyola 50

Northern Iowa 66, Southern Illinois 63

Semifinals

Saturday, March 16

Drake 65, Illinois St. 54

Missouri St. 89, Northern Iowa 64

Championship

Sunday, March 17

Missouri St. 94, Drake 79

——

MISSOURI ST. 94, No. 21 DRAKE 79

At Moline, Ill.

MISSOURI ST. (23-9) — Franklin 3-6 1-2 7, Hipp 3-5 3-3 9, Calip 3-5 7-9 13, Gitzen 4-13 3-4 12, Willard 11-20 4-5 30, Gartner 2-5 0-2 4, Bhinhar 0-1 0-0 0, Manning 5-7 1-2 14, Ruffridge 0-3 3-4 3, Wilson 0-0 2-2 2. TOTALS 31-65 24-33 94.

DRAKE (27-6) — Rhine 5-5 3-4 14, Bachrodt 6-13 2-2 18, Dean 1-7 2-2 5, Hittner 6-16 0-0 16, Monahan 0-2 0-0 0, Burich 2-4 6-6 11, Jonas 0-1 0-0 0, Wooldridge 0-0 2-2 2, Fuller 1-1 0-0 3, Miller 1-3 0-0 3, Rose 2-4 2-2 7. TOTALS 24-56 17-18 79.

Missouri St. 21 21 26 26 — 94

Drake 22 13 12 32 — 79

3-Point Goals–Missouri St. 8-19 (Gitzen 1-5, Willard 4-6, Bhinhar 0-1, Manning 3-4, Ruffridge 0-3), Drake 14-30 (Rhine 1-1, Bachrodt 4-6, Dean 1-5, Hittner 4-11, Burich 1-1, Jonas 0-1, Fuller 1-1, Miller 1-3, Rose 1-1). Assists–Missouri St. 19 (Gitzen 5), Drake 19 (Bachrodt 7). Fouled Out–Franklin, Bachrodt. Rebounds–Missouri St. 38 (Gitzen 8), Drake 34 (Rhine 7). Total Fouls–Missouri St. 17, Drake 25. A–1,558.