The seventh-seeded Valpo women’s basketball team put together a strong effort in quarterfinal action at Hoops in the Heartland Friday evening against second-seeded Drake and was within one possession at the halfway mark of the fourth quarter, but a decisive run by the Bulldogs proved to be the difference as Drake prevailed by a 71-60 final to advance to the semifinals and end Valpo’s season.
How It Happened
Valpo came out smoking hot from the field in the opening 10 minutes, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor — including 3-for-4 from 3-point range — in the first quarter.
A 3-pointer by senior Ella Ellenson (Rice Lake, Wis./Rice Lake) pushed Valpo’s lead to 17-9 with 4:28 to play in the first quarter.
Drake scored the next seven points to close to within one, but baskets in the final 90 seconds of the period by senior Grace White (Redby, Minn./Red Lake [Denver]) and junior Maya Dunson (Dayton, Ohio/Wayne [Loyola]) gave Valpo a 21-16 lead at the end of the quarter.
For as hot as Valpo’s offense was in the first 10 minutes, it went cold in the second quarter. Following a steal and coast-to-coast layup from Ellenson at the 8:15 mark of the period, Valpo went scoreless for the next 7:23.
But the Valpo defense kept Drake from putting big numbers on the board during that stretch, as it turned out to be just an 11-0 run for the Bulldogs over the span.
Junior Carie Weinman (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South [Denver]) made a driving layup with 52 seconds to play in the first half to snap the scoreless skid before a pair of free throws from Drake gave it a 31-28 lead at intermission.
Valpo regained the lead early in the third quarter on four consecutive free throws by White, and the Brown and Gold twice pushed the advantage to three points in the period — the second coming on a triple from senior Caitlin Morrison (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South) with 4:38 to play in the quarter.
Drake scored nine straight over a 2:30 stretch to regain the lead for good following Morrison’s triple, however. A 3-pointer from White and a driving basket from Weinman brought Valpo back to within one, and the deficit sat at 48-45 with 10 minutes to play.
Junior Shay Frederick (Greenville, Wis./Hortonville) twice cut into the Bulldogs’ advantage with big baskets in the fourth quarter, hitting a fast-break floater 58 seconds into the period to make it a one-point game, and later knocking down a 3-pointers with 7:47 to play to bring Valpo within two. But both times, Drake scored on each of its next two trips down the court.
Valpo hung tough, however, and again made it a one-score game thanks to a 3-point play from Weinman with 5:05 to go which brought the score to 57-55.
Drake went on a 9-0 run from that point, though, scoring on each of its next four trips to pull away.
Inside the Game
The loss was Valpo’s third in the quarterfinals at Hoops in the Heartland. Each of the three years the tournament has been played since Valpo joined the MVC, it has won a first-round game before losing in the quarterfinals.
Ironically, all three quarterfinal losses have come against Drake. But this year’s defeat was much more competitive, as Valpo lost by 49 points in the 2018 quarterfinal and 28 points in 2019.
The loss ends Valpo’s season at 12-13. Valpo currently sits at 113 in the NET, which would be the program’s highest finish in NET/RPI since the 2003-04 team posted a 101 final RPI.
For the second straight game, Weinman enjoyed a strong performance offensively. The junior went 8-of-12 from the floor for a game-high 19 points and averaged 23.5 PPG over Valpo’s two tournament games.
Frederick finished with 13 points, while Ellenson enjoyed one of her best offensive games of the season, scoring 11 points.
White notched six rebounds to lead Valpo in that department and shared game-high honors with Frederick as each tallied three steals. Morrison rejected a pair of shots as well.
Combined with her career-best seven steals Thursday, Frederick finished the tournament with 10 steals — tied for seventh-most by a single player in MVC Tournament history.
Much as they did in the two regular season meetings with the Bulldogs, the Brown and Gold turned Drake over often and took advantage. Valpo forced 19 Drake turnovers — 11 of which were steals — and converted those into 26 points.
Weinman finished the season with 72 steals, tied for ninth-most in a single season in program history. As a team, Valpo finished the campaign third in both 3-pointers made (226) and 3-point attempts (719) despite the shortened season.
Thoughts From Coach Evans
“I think our players fought really hard all night long. It was a pretty tough, physical game, and I thought they hung in there and gave themselves a chance.”
“We did a nice job in the first quarter getting it inside of Drake’s zone. I thought Drake started tonight pretty stretched out, and we were attacking and getting into it. We got some good inside-out shots and got some shots at the rim that we haven’t gotten in the past. I was really pleased with that.”
“I never question how hard my team plays. They give everything they have for this team and for each other. I thought they did the same thing tonight — they battled, they fought, they guarded. I’m really proud of them, for how hard they played tonight and for how hard they played this year.”
“I’m really proud of how our players stuck together to even get this season to happen. They’ve been very disciplined to even make sure that we could play this year with the way they took care of our bubble. The things they’ve gone through since last march are pretty remarkable, and I’m really happy they got to play as many games as they did.”