PEORIA — After an historic nonconference run, the Bradley women received a rude welcome back to Missouri Valley Conference play by the defending champions Friday at Renaissance Coliseum.
Drake took control early with hot shooting and the Braves never got on track in a humbling 92-63 loss in the league opener for both schools.
Bradley entered the game with plenty of momentum, after a school-record 10 victories in 11 nonconference game. The Braves were 6-0 at home and received 23 points in the Jan. 2 CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, without a senior in the starting lineup.
But the Bulldogs (9-4, 1-0), who came in ranked No. 10 in RPI and No. 3 in strength of schedule, showed why they were the preseason MVC favorite.
“We’re talented from every spot and we did use the nonconference as a momentum booster,” said Bradley senior forward Vanessa Markert, the lone four-year player in the Braves regular rotation. “We had a ton of confidence going into the game tonight, but we just got punched in the mouth. We weren’t ready for their toughness.”
Drake made 10 of its first 11 shots and raced to a 30-18 lead after one quarter. Bradley did not get any closer than 15 the rest of the night, after Drake opened the second quarter with its sixth 3-pointer in nine tries.
The Braves, who trailed 50-28 at intermission, finished 19-for-63 shooting from the field (30 percent) with 20 turnovers.
“We just didn’t execute,” Bradley coach Andrea Gorski said. “They’re just way too physical for us and we didn’t want to play physical basketball. They were physical with us, so instead of executing we just jacked up shots.”
The Braves didn’t have an answer for the inside-out duo of junior guard Becca Hittner and 6-foot-1 junior forward Sara Rhine.
Hittner hit her first three 3-pointers, went 8-for-9 from the line and scored a game-high 26 — half of those in the opening quarter. Rhine made eight of 12 shots, scored 22 and grabbed 14 rebounds.
Bradley sophomore Gabi Haack, the Braves’ season scoring leader, did what she could. Haack scored 23, including 3-for-5 from 3-point land and 8-for-9 at the foul line, to reach double figures for the 10th game in a row.
“I was really pumped for this game going in,” Haack said. “It’s frustrating. This isn’t how I wanted it to turn out. There’s definitely a lot of things we need to work on from this game. Drake got too many second-chance rebounds. They got a lot of points off second and third rebounds.”
Drake finished with 46 rebounds, 20 of those on the offensive end.
The 92 points were the most the Braves have allowed in a game all season. Bradley entered averaging 75.1 points per game and allowing only 61.7 per contest.
“We shot the ball a lot better in those games, but Drake punched us in the mouth and we didn’t want to fight back,” Gorski said. “I thought Gabi fought back. She played extremely hard. The kid never backs down from anyone.”
Chelsea Brackmann scored 11 and had nine rebounds for the Braves. Freshman Lasha Petree, who averaged 15.9 points in the nonconference season — seventh in the nation among first-year players, made just one of 11 shots from the field and finished with three points.
Bradley hosts Northern Iowa at 2 p.m. Sunday at Renaissance Coliseum.
Stan Morris can be reached at 686-3214 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @stanmorrispjs