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MOLINE, Ill. — Drake has been known to dazzle opponents with the flair of its free-flowing offense, but that’s not all the Bulldogs are about.

Sunday, rebounding and defensive grit proved to be the difference in lifting the Drake women’s basketball team to its second consecutive Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship.

The top-seeded Bulldogs held Northern Iowa without a field goal over the final 7 minutes, 28 seconds at the TaxSlayer Center to earn a 75-63 victory and the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA tourney.

“We knew we would have to focus on every possession down the stretch, every stop mattered,’’ Drake forward Sara Rhine said.

After a lay-in by Megan Maahs pulled the Panthers within 64-61, third-seeded UNI missed its final 10 shots from the field and the Bulldogs methodically pulled away to its sixth straight win over its instate rival including victories in the last two Missouri Valley tourney finales.

Becca Jonas fueled the deciding run of eight unanswered points by Drake.

Her jumper was followed by a 3-pointer by Nicole Miller, a basket by tournament most outstanding player Maddy Dean and a free throw by Sammie Bachrodt which left the Panthers with a 72-61 problem with 3:22 remaining.

“We talked a lot before the game about managing their runs,’’ UNI point guard Kennedy Kirkpatrick said. “We didn’t do the job we needed to do with that. They’d make a shot, we didn’t answer.’’

That was an issue from the onset for Northern Iowa, which fell behind 20-12 after one quarter and trailed 43-36 at halftime.

The Panthers had fallen behind by 13 points three minutes into the second quarter but used a series of 3-pointers by Ellie Howell, Nicole Kroeger and Rose Simon-Ressler, all off of offensive rebounds, to claw back into the game.

Among a collection of 11 UNI hit in 30 attempts, Howell and Kirkpatrick connected on consecutive threes in the third quarter to position the Panthers to take a 49-48 lead on jumper by Taylor Hagen with 5:31 remaining in the frame.

“We were starting to play with some confidence in the third quarter, hitting some shots, but it didn’t last,’’ Kirkpatrick said.

Northern Iowa’s only lead of the game lasted 19 seconds before Miller scored on a lay-in to give Drake a lead it wouldn’t relinquish on its way to a 21st straight win.

“We showed a lot of toughness,’’ Dean said. “Northern Iowa has a good team and we knew we were in for a fight. When they made a run, we had to find a way to answer. We got that done and it feels pretty good.’’

In a game which saw 20 players score, balance was big for both teams.

Drake (26-7) was led by 12 points apiece from Miller and Rhine, an effort complemented by 10-point efforts from Jonas and Dean.

“Our depth has been a strength and we needed it against a UNI team that defended us really well,’’ said Bulldogs coach Jennie Baranczyk, whose bench outscored the Panthers’ reserves 43-25.

No Northern Iowa players scored in double figures but eight Panthers finished within between six and nine points, an effort led by nine-point games from Simon-Ressler and Mikaela Morgan.

In addition to holding UNI to 32.8-percent shooting, the Bulldogs were able force the Panthers (19-13) into 13 turnovers which led to 17 points.

“That’s what they do so well. If you make a mistake, have an empty possession, they make you pay,’’ UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “At times, I felt we became stagnant offensively, catching and holding the ball instead of moving it to get their zone to shift and open a crease.’’

That led Northern Iowa to a loss in the Missouri Valley title game for the third straight year.

“That’s something we’ll address in the offseason, finding a way to take that next step,’’ Warren said. “We came a long way with a young team from where we started, but we have work to do.’’

Drake 75, UNI 63

UNI Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP

Maahs 26 4-7 0-0 11 0 3 8

Howell 32 2-12 0-0 1 5 3 6

Simon-Ressler 24 3-7 2-2 3 0 2 9

Kirkpatrick 31 2-10 1-1 3 6 3 6

Morgan 23 3-8 1-2 3 3 3 9

Rucker 14 0-3 2-2 2 2 2 2

Kroeger 10 3-7 0-0 2 0 1 8

Gunnels 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0

Wheatcraft 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0

Hillyard 11 1-2 0-0 1 0 0 3

Hagen 13 2-5 2-2 7 0 3 6

Gerrits 14 2-6 0-0 3 0 0 6

Team 3

Totals 200 22-67 8-9 39 16 20 63

Drake Mn FG-A FT-A Rb As PF TP

Rose 22 2-8 0-0 4 1 2 4

Jonas 18 5-8 0-1 6 2 1 10

Monahan 13 0-3 2-2 2 3 2 2

Hittner 25 2-6 5-8 6 1 1 9

Bachrodt 28 2-6 1-2 2 0 2 7

Greiner 16 2-4 1-1 1 1 1 6

Dean 28 4-9 0-0 5 5 2 10

Fuller 8 1-1 0-0 1 0 1 3

Miller 20 3-5 4-4 4 3 2 12

Rhine 22 4-8 3-4 7 1 2 12

Team 4

Totals 200 25-58 16-22 42 17 16 75

N. Iowa 12 24 20 7 — 63

Drake 20 23 19 13 — 75

3-point goals — UNI 11-30 (Howell 2-5, Simon-Ressler 1-3, Kirkpatrick 1-6, Morgan 2-6, Rucker 0-1, Kroeger 2-5, Hillyard 1-1, Gerrits 2-3), Drake 9-22 (Rose 0-3, Monahan 0-2, Bachrodt 2-4, Greiner 1-3, Dean 2-5, Fuller 1-1, Miller 2-3, Rhine 1-1). Turnovers — UNI 13 (Simon-Ressler 3), Drake 13 (Rose 5). Blocks — UNI 3 (Maahs 2), Drake 5 (Hittner 3). Steals — UNI 6 (Morgan 4), Drake 10 (Bachrodt 3).

Officials — Roberts, Mattingly, Grinter. Att. — 2,169.

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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