Jennie Baranczyk

The Drake University women’s basketball team won its seventh Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and secured its 12th NCAA Tournament berth with a 75-63 victory over UNI in the MVC Tournament championship game Sunday, March 11, afternoon at the TaxSlayer Center.

The Bulldogs’ second-straight MVC Tournament title capped a second-consecutive season in which the program went undefeated against conference foes and the victory over UNI was the Bulldogs 21st-straight win this season.

Drake (26-7) will learn its NCAA Tournament opportunity during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show Monday evening on ESPN at 6 p.m. CDT.

Four Bulldogs scored in double-figures to lead Drake to the tourney crown with Nicole Miller (Walker, Iowa) helping lead with way with 12 points. Her final points came on a critical three-pointer in the fourth quarter that helped the Bulldogs go on an 8-0 run to build an 11-point lead with just over five minutes remaining in the title game.

Sara Rhine (Eldon, Mo.) added 12 points and seven rebounds while Becca Jonas (Independence, Mo.) and Maddy Dean (Jordan, Minn.) each added 10 points. Dean was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 17.0 points per game and shooting 10-of-21 from three-point range in the Bulldogs’ three wins. Rhine and Becca Hittner (Urbandale, Iowa) joined Dean on the MVC All-Tournament team.

Drake’s defense held UNI to 32.8 percent shooting with Megan Maahs leading the Panthers with eight points and 11 rebounds while Mikaela Morgan and Rose Simon Ressler each added nine points.

The latest installment of the rivalry between the two MVC stalwarts lived up to its legacy as Drake held off a UNI rally to open the third quarter en route to the 12-point victory.

The Panthers opened that quarter on a 13-5 run to take their first and only lead of the game, 49-48, on a Taylor Hagen jumper with 5:31 left in the period. But, seven-straight points from Drake put the eventual champions back in the driver’s seat.

The Panthers mounted one final push to quell Drake’s title hopes, drawing within three points three minutes into the final quarter. But Miller and the Bulldogs rattled off eight straight points and held UNI scoreless for more than seven minutes to build a double-digit lead with less than two minutes remaining in the title game to earn the right to cut down the nets at the TaxSlayer Center.

The Bulldogs jumped all over the Panthers to start the game with a quick 7-0 lead in the first four minutes to force an early UNI timeout. Drake extended its lead to as many as 13 points, 29-16, with seven minutes left in the second quarter thanks to four points from Rhine during a 6-0 Drake spurt. Rhine finished the opening half with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting as the Bulldogs converted on 14-of-30 shots in the opening half.

The Panthers responded to Drake’s early charge with an 8-0 run that eventually allowed UNI to draw within a point, 37-36, with less than two minutes left in the quarter. But that momentum was short-lived as the Bulldogs closed the second quarter with back-to-back three-pointers from Hannah Fuller (West Des Moines, Iowa) and Dean put Drake up, 43-36, at halftime. The two quick three-pointers gave the Bulldogs seven three-pointers on 13 attempts in the first half as the teams made a combined 14 three-pointers in the first 20 minutes of the contest. Drake finished the game with nine three-pointers but shot 9-of-19 inside the arc in the second half.