CEDAR FALLS, Ia. — Positioned directly behind the visiting bench, the large contingent of royal blue stood out among the purple-and-gold mixture splattered across a mostly full McLeod Center.
At times Friday, the road faithful fell silent behind one Northern Iowa’s electric women’s basketball crowd. The Panthers stayed at Drake’s hip — forcing overtime, then a second — as UNI and its home backing looked to land a huge in-state win.
But those in blue had the final say. As the final buzzer sounded on Drake’s 88-79, double-OT win over the Panthers in a battle of conference unbeatens, the blue-clad supporting cast roared with approval as their Bulldogs took another step forward toward conference supremacy.
“The crowd was amazing,” said Drake coach Jennie Baranczyk, whose Bulldogs played in front 4,027 people, just 50 off the McLeod Center women’s basketball record. “The atmosphere was awesome.”
Despite struggling from deep (2-for-20), the Bulldogs (16-4, 9-0 Missouri Valley) leaned on a balanced scoring effort and a herculean effort at the free-throw line (34-for-36) to move into sole possession of first place in the MVC. Becca Jonas poured in a team-high 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting, while Brenni Rose (17 points, 10 rebounds), Lizzy Wendell (16 points), Caitlin Ingle (12 points) and Becca Hittner (10 points) all cracked double figures.
In a showdown that featured 10 lead changes and 16 ties, Drake finally pulled away in the second overtime, outscoring UNI, 13-4, over the game’s final 4 minutes. The Panthers (15-5, 8-1) knotted things, 75-75, with 3:54 to go, but a tightened defensive effort and more charity stripe success propelled the Bulldogs to their 10th straight win.
Drake hit seven free throws over the final 3:43, a microcosm of the Bulldogs’ ability to get to the rim on a night where the deep threat wasn’t there.
“I don’t think we finished all that well today, but when we needed to, I thought we did a really nice job of being able to finish and had a few and-1’s,” Baranczyk said. “I think part of that is in our system, but the nice thing is it was Nicole Miller, Brenni Rose, Becca Jonas, Lizzy Wendell — a lot of different people.
“So that’ when we’re at our best — when multiple people touching the ball.”
UNI’s Ellie Herzberg delivered a game-high 27 points in front of Madison Weekly’s 22, helping keep the Panthers neck-in-neck despite a poor outside shooting night (6-for-30).
Herzberg sent the game to overtime on a jumper with 24 seconds left in regulation and scored nine straight UNI points in the first overtime, but the Panthers ran out of gas late to halt its 11-game winning streak.
We really battled on both ends,” Weekly said. “We obviously had some mistakes and wish we could’ve done a few things differently, but overall, we battled — and that’s all you can ask for.”
Looking forward, Friday night served as the appetizer for what could be a three-game battle between the two clear MVC favorites. The regular-season rematch comes Feb. 24 in Des Moines, and a third meeting seems possible in the MVC Tournament, with these two likely to be the No. 1 and 2 seeds in Moline.
If that does indeed unfold, Friday’s double-overtime dual could be the preview of more nail-biting, in-state action.
“I think the best thing we did today is we never got down,” Baranczyk said. “I think we just kept our belief and kept going.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.