CEDAR FALLS — Stingy defense and strong frontcourt play were the difference in Drake’s 88-64 win over Northern Iowa Friday night at McLeod Center.
“I thought we tried to make great passes instead of making simple plays,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “We had too many bobbles. A lot of uncharacteristic things from us on the offensive end.”
Drake (13-4, 5-0) — which hung onto first place in the Missouri Valley Conference with its win — was led by Sara Rhine’s game-high 26 points. Becca Hittner and Maddy Dean joined Rhine in double-figures with 19 and 13, respectively.
The Bulldogs fought off multiple UNI (10-7, 3-2) scoring runs, including 16-3 and 6-0 third-quarter runs, the latter tying the game at 49 on an Abby Gerrits 3-pointer with 4:18 left in the quarter.
“I thought we battled, especially defensively,” Warren said. “We rebounded the basketball, and then I thought offensively we did a nice job of getting it out in transition and ball movement. We were in attack mode and we didn’t turn the basketball over.”
Clinging to a three-point lead to begin the fourth, Drake answered UNI’s 19-point third quarter outburst with a 23-5 run and 29-10 fourth quarter to put the Panthers away.
Rhine, who entered the game leading the Bulldogs in scoring (18.9 ppg), led the way in the fourth, routinely working through UNI’s defense to score 11 points over the final 10 minutes.
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“Going into the fourth, obviously we were still in striking distance, but I didn’t think we battled as we had the three previous quarters and against a team like Drake who can score in a variety of ways, you have to be able to make on-court adjustments that can’t just come from the timeout,” Warren said. “If you score six ways, you’re not going to score that seventh way on (Drake) and I didn’t think we did a very good job making those adjustments.”
UNI committed a season-high 26 turnovers in the loss, 16 in the first half. Ellie Howell led the Panthers with 15 points while Mikaela Morgan (13), Karli Rucker (10) and Gerrits (10) joined Howell in double-figures.
“You can’t turn the basketball over 26 times against Drake,” Warren said. “Eventually they’re going to exploit it and they did that. We battled for three quarters, they humiliated us in the fourth.”
Northern Iowa travels to Evansville next Friday at 6 p.m. CT.