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Women’s basketball falls to Drake in MVC championship

Junior guard Destinee Wells fought to keep Belmont’s championship hopes alive, pouring in 34 points. Landen Secrest/Belmont Vision

Drake University women’s basketball wasn’t messing around Sunday afternoon as it defeated Belmont University 89-71.

“Credit to Drake they were really good today and they deserved to win.” said Belmont head coach Bart Brooks. “We wish them the best.”

Held inside the Vibrant Arena in Moline, Illinois, both squads powered their way into the Missouri Valley Conference championship game.

In the MVC’s Hoops in the Heartland tournament, No. 2 seeded Belmont defeated Southern Illinois University on Friday and the University of Northern Iowa on Saturday.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 4 seeded Drake edged Missouri State University on Friday and dominated Illinois State University in Saturday’s contest.

Heading into championship Sunday, the Belmont Bruins rode an impressive 16-game winning streak, standing with an overall 23-10 record and 17-3 in-conference.

The Drake Bulldogs were 21-9 and 14-6 in-conference.

Drake jumped to a hot start from the get-go as forwards Maggie Bair and Anna Miller excelled from both ends of the floor.

Protecting the paint and picking up key rebounds, Drake prevented the Bruins from coming up with crucial points as it continued to get buckets.

By the end of the first quarter, the Bulldogs held a 19-12 advantage over the Bruins.

After a 3-pointer from Bulldog guard Sarah Beth Gueldner made the score 24-12, Belmont responded with a 3 of its own from guard Sydni Harvey.

The Bruins narrowed the Drake lead to four with a 3-pointer from blazing guard Destinee Wells with just over four minutes remaining in the half.

But Drake went on an 11-2 run in the second quarter’s final three minutes with help from guard Katie Dinnebier and Bair.

Drake held a 13-point lead over the Bruins at the half.

Not letting up, the Bulldogs continued their red-hot momentum in the second half.

With Drake up 18, Belmont called a timeout with 6:12 remaining in the third.

Giving the Bruins some hope, Wells suddenly downed a basket.

After picking up the rebound on a missed 3, Belmont looked to come back as guard Kilyn McGuff downed two 3s on back-to-back possessions.

McGuff scored 15 points and was the Bruins’ second-leading scorer against the Drake Bulldogs. Landen Secrest/Belmont Vision

With the score 51-41, Drake called a timeout.

After going on an 11-3 Bulldog run out of the timeout, in which they re-built their lead to 18, the Bruins scored with 40 seconds left in the third with a 3 from Wells.

Beth Gueldner then responded with a 3 for the Bulldogs with 11 seconds remaining in the quarter.

With 11 seconds winding down on the clock, a determined Wells shot from beyond the arc.

At the buzzer, splash.

Trailing by 15, the Bruins looked to slow the Bulldogs in the final 10 minutes.

But Drake continued to find success in picking up points in the paint along with guarding it on the other side.

The Bulldogs outscored the Bruins 24-21 in the fourth, solidifying them as the 2023 MVC champions.

“They really packed the paint in on us with their zone, it was hard to get in on gaps” Wells said. “They played really well, shot the ball well, got open cuts. Yeah, they just played really well.”

Wells was the only Belmont player named to the 2023 MVC All-Tournament team along with Bair, Dinnebier, Drake’s Grace Berg and UNI’s Grace Boffeli.

Wells finished the game with a remarkable 34 points, three rebounds and three assists. In the tournament, she finished with a stellar 96 points, the second highest in MVC tournament history.

On the other side, Bair finished the contest with 19 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks while Dinnebier also finished with 19 points and nine assists.

“I hate that it didn’t go our way today, but I’m blessed that I get to ride through this misery with these great people,” Brooks said. “I think we’re good enough to beat anyone on any given day, I think we’ve proven that in our time here, and I’m just sick to my stomach for these kids because I think we could beat someone in an NCAA tournament game.”

“But I’m confident that we put together a resume and a body of work that would be desired in an NIT tournament, I think we’re good enough to win that thing,” he added.

After the heartbreaking loss, Brooks says he’s confident his team has more basketball left to play this season.

This article was written by A.J. Wuest

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