CEDAR FALLS—With the Missouri Valley Conference tournament one week away, the Northern Iowa women’s basketball team wanted to tighten up play a little more and gain a little momentum.
Friday, the Panthers (18-11 overall, 10-8 MVC) put together one of their best performances of the season as UNI rolled past second-place Drake (22-8, 14-4), 91-78, at the McLeod Center.
It was the type of performance that head coach Tanya Warren was looking for.
“We wanted to come into this game and try a little different game plan than before,” said Warren. “We wanted to really trap more down in the paint and we did a great job of that early and I think that really set the tone for the game. We were really aggressive tonight and we showed a lot of poise and patience all night.”
The Panthers poise was evident right from the opening tip as they controlled the ball and rattled off seven unanswered points. The advantage was soon built to 12 as UNI’s defense never let up in a wire-to-wire victory.
“UNI played extremely well, especially on defense, and we never responded,” said Bulldogs coach Jennie Baranczyk. “They came out extremely motivated and it came down to defense and they did a better job. I honestly do not know the answer to the way we played, but I was very disappointed in our efforts.”
The Bulldogs had already secured the second seed of the tournament and could not improve on the standings with a win.
“It was not that at all,” added Baranczyk. “We could have played for pride or just matched their motivation but we fell short. We did not shoot the ball very well either.”
The Panthers had little trouble shooting as three players reached double-digits and 10 players found the scorebook. Leading the way was sophomore guard Kam Finley who rolled in a career-best 28 points.
Finley helped UNI pull away early in the second quarter when Drake had cut the deficit to 21-20, by chipping in five points. Karli Rucker put the Panthers back into a double-digit lead with a short jumper inside.
Rucker finished with 22 points.
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“This game was probably the most complete we have played start-to-finish this year,” said Finley. “We wanted to go out and give our four seniors a big farewell and get this thing right. We really succeeded in everything we did tonight and we showed that this team is capable of playing this way anytime.
“We played amazing and we had to because they (Drake) are an amazing team as well. This was definitely a confidence game heading into next week.”
Finley was responsible for kick starting several Panther point runs including the final stretch when she stole a pass and while falling to the court, but she was able to shuffle the ball off to Rucker, who turned the turnover into points.
“It was just one of those nights where I felt good about my shot,” added Finley. “If I made a drive and didn’t like what I saw then I would pass it out and some one else would make the play. This game let’s everyone know we are back and we are ready for some more.”
Bre Gunnels added 11 points, while Cynthia Wolf pulled down a team-best eight boards as UNI won that battle, 41-37.
Beccan Hittner led the Bulldogs with 29.
“There are still some things we need to get better at,” said Warren. “We need to do a better job getting to those 50-50 balls. I was proud of the way the girls have played lately and you want to be playing you’re best ball as you head into the conference tournament.”
UNI 91, Drake 78
DRAKE (22-8, 14-4)—Brenni Rose 1-6 0-2 2, Sara Rhine 6-12 5-5 19, Maddie Monahan 3-6 8-10 17, Becca Hittner 11-18 4-5 29, Kierra Collier 1-5 2-2 4, Allie Wooldridge 1-3 0-0 2, Maggie Negaard 0-0 0-0 0, Monica Burich 0-2 2-2 2, Hannah Fuller 0-2 0-0 0, Sara Beth Gueldner 1-6 0-0 3. Totals 24-60 21-26 78.
NORTHERN IOWA (18-11, 10-8)—Karli Rucker 9-19 2-2 22, Heidi Hillyard 2-3 0-0 5, Bre Gunnels 3-5 4-7 11, Megan Maahs 4-8 1-2 9, Cynthia Wolf 2-8 0-0 4, Abby Gerrits 1-4 0-0 2, Nicole Kroeger 1-5 2-2 4, Rose Simon-Ressler 1-2 0-0 2, Kristina Cavey 1-2 1-2 4, Kam Finley 11-17 2-4 28, Cailyn Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Kiana Barney 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-73 12-19 91.
Drake 18 17 14 29—78
Northern Iowa 21 23 18 29—91
3-point goals—Drake 9 (Monahan 3, Hittner 3, Rhine 2, Gueldner), UNI 9 (Finley 4, Rucker 2, Cavey, Hillyard, Gunnels). Rebounds—Drake 37 (Rhine 15), UNI 41 (Wolf 8). Assists—Drake 9 (Monahan 4), UNI 15 (Rucker 4). Total fouls—Drake 20, UNI 22. Fouled out—None.
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