The final score may not show it, but the Valparaiso University women’s basketball team left Des Moines with something to build on after an 84-53 loss to Missouri Valley Conference powerhouse Drake at a packed Knapp Center on Sunday.
Valpo, which won the fourth quarter 17-16 after dropping the third by just two points, made runs on several occasions in the second half, forcing the Bulldogs into three timeouts. An early hole was too much to overcome as Drake – a team that is receiving national votes and was ranked earlier this season – led 31-7 after one quarter. Junior Grace Hales (Cromwell, Ind. / Westview) played a key role in the second-half progression, playing well on both ends of the floor after halftime.
How It Happened
- Drake started the game with an 8-0 run before Hales connected from distance to put Valpo on the board. The Bulldogs scored the next nine points to widen the margin to 17-3.
- By the time the first period came to an end, Drake had its largest lead of the period at 31-7. The Bulldogs (12-4, 4-0) shot 68.8 percent in the first quarter while holding Valpo to 3-of-13.
- Valpo showed improvement in the second quarter, but was outscored 18-11, permitting Drake to expand its halftime edge to 48-18. Drake’s Becca Hittner was two rebounds shy of a double-double by halftime. A key disparity was at the foul line, where Drake had 13 makes and Valpo had no attempts.
- The biggest run of the second half came in the final five minutes of the third period. Valpo embarked on an 11-0 spurt that shrunk a 37-point lead to 26. Shay Frederick (Greenville, Wis. / Hortonville) connected on a triple to cap the burst with 2:27 to go in the quarter. That stretch was highlighted by the all-around play of Hales, who made a layup, converted a pair of 3s, blocked a Sara Rhine 3-point try and played strong defense.
- That wasn’t Valpo’s last run of the game, as the guests rapped off nine straight points early in the fourth. Freshman classmates Ilysse Pitts (Aurora, Ill. / Montini) and Frederick both drilled 3s during that stretch, as did Hales. Valpo got within 20 at 70-50 with 6:31 left in the fourth – meaning Valpo had played Drake nearly even since trailing by 17 with 2:36 left in the first quarter.
- The Bulldogs used one more spurt to get the last laugh in an entertaining second half, securing the victory.
Inside the Game
- Hales finished three points shy of a career high with 18 points including four made 3-pointers. She established a personal watermark in assists with four, the first time she’s had more than two in a game. In addition, Hales had four steals to boost her previous career high of three, which occurred last week at Loyola. After going 1-of-8 shooting in the first half, Hales bounced back with 15 second-half points on 6-of-12 shooting.
- Ella Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wis. / Rice Lake) returned to double figures with 10 points, the second time she’s scored 10+ points this season. The Valpo sophomore swiped four steals, besting her previous career high of three, which had stood since this year’s season opener at UIC.
- Frederick (9) and Pitts (8) combined for 17 points. Pitts was one of three Valpo players with three steals or more as she matched her season high (Nov. 26 vs. Toledo) with three. Pitts also dished out a career-high six assists. Frederick nailed three triples.
- Valpo had 13 steals, the team’s most since Nov. 16 at Morehead State. The Valpo defense helped force Drake into 23 turnovers.
- Rhine led all scorers with 21, while Hittner had a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Thoughts from Head Coach Mary Evans
“Drake is a great team. They play so hard, they’re so fundamental and they do such a good job running their plays. Our players came out and played a really good second half. If we can continue to play that hard, good things are to come for our women’s basketball program at Valpo.”
“Today was about focusing on us and what Valpo basketball is going to look like. Our players did a better job communicating on the defensive end. We took some charges. I couldn’t be more proud of the team with the way we fought in the second half. If you take the first quarter out, this a much closer game. That quarter is on me; I need to do a better job having our team ready to play.”
“Ilysse and Shay are learning how they need to work in practice to become better basketball players. Ella played a really good game. Grace stepped up and made some plays defensively. This is all about us being a team. We talk about winning and losing together. In the second half, they really fought for each other. We played at the effort level that we have to play at to be competitive against a team like Drake. We learned how hard it’s going to be, but now we know what we need to do to play at that level for a whole game and not just three quarters. I think we’re going to be able to take a lot out of this moving forward to learn and grow as a team.”
“Drake is a great model for what I want at Valpo. We have a fantastic University, and I’m excited about the program that we’re building. It is a process and this year is about learning, growing and understanding what it’s going to take to get there. On the fly, our players picked up something offensively and ran with it in the second half and I’m really proud of the effort they put in today. I’m excited to build something special at Valpo.”
Valpo will be back home on Friday for the first home game in conference play this season. Indiana State will march into the Athletics-Recreation Center for a 7 p.m. tip. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ and can be heard on 95.1 FM Valparaiso.