Drake muscles past Missouri State in shootout

Cody Goodwin

Last week, after the Drake women’s basketball team won its 16th game against Missouri Valley Conference competition, Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren issued a challenge, of sorts, to anybody else in the league who would listen.

“Against Drake, you have to make shots,” Warren said then. “If you don’t, it wears on your defense.”

After Thursday night, it was clear that Missouri State listened.

Drake bulldogs

Drake beat Missouri State, 98-91, before 2,448 at the Knapp Center on Thursday night. The 22nd-ranked Bulldogs are now 24-4 overall and 17-0 in league play with just one game left on the schedule — they host Wichita State at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“What a game,” Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk said, in reference to the 66 combined made field goals between both teams. “They took it right to us. Now, we were able to score as well, but I also feel like we left a lot out there.”

Thursday’s contest was a night-and-day difference from when the teams first met back on Jan. 1. Drake won that day, 90-64, and the Lady Bears (16-12, 12-5) shot a measly 34.7 percent from the field while the Bulldogs rolled to their third of what is now 18 consecutive victories.

Missouri State made Drake work on Thursday night — or, more accurately, Liza Fruendt did. The junior guard shot 17 of 31 from the floor, including 6 of 16 from deep, en route to 46 points. She added six boards and three assists to singlehandedly carry the Lady Bears through the game.

“That’s a performance you don’t get to see very often,” Baranczyk said of Fruendt. “That was a really impressive performance … but we’ve got to take that as a coaching staff. We needed to make adjustments earlier.

“You can go off and be that unconscious almost and knock down those shots, but you can’t shoot that many times without us adjusting. Our coaching staff needs to take that and focus on making better coaching adjustments.”

If not for a slow start, Fruendt could’ve threatened 60. She opened 2 of 8 for just four points in the first quarter, during which Drake jumped ahead 25-13. The Bulldogs led by as many as 22 midway through the second quarter thanks to a 24-6 run.

But Fruendt caught fire in her right hand and sparked a 16-2 run to cut Drake’s lead to 48-38 by halftime. The Lady Bears came within a single possession five separate times in the second half, but the Bulldogs’ depth shone to help keep the Valley’s third-place team at a distance.

As a team, Drake shot 34 of 65 from the floor (with 26 assists), good for 52.3 percent. Six players scored in double figures, and Becca Hittner and Lizzy Wendell both broke 20. Brenni Rose and Nicole Miller added 16 and 10, respectively, off the bench by hitting six combined shots from behind the arc.

“I thought people did a good job of finding me,” said Rose, who shot 5-for-8 overall and 3-for-4 from deep. “That’s the great part of playing with (Caitlin Ingle) and Lizzy. Everybody is so focused on them, but they’ll still find you. They’ll pass it to everybody, and I just took the open shots.”

The Bulldogs are now a game closer to a perfect league mark, something that hasn’t happened in the modern Valley era (Southern Illinois went 18-0 in conference play in both 1985-86 and 1986-87, but back then, it was called the Gateway Conference).

Baranczyk maintained that the accomplishment will become real when, and if, it actually becomes real. Her assessment of Thursday night’s game revolved around Drake’s loss in the rebounding margin (38-29), but she liked the way her team continued to fight to secured another win.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster going into the final game and the tournament,” Hittner added. “Everybody made big plays down the stretch and really did their part. That’s why we won.”

Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.