With seven seconds remaining in a two-point ballgame against Drake University Feb. 6, the Loyola women’s basketball team (7-6, 5-4) had a chance to tie the game and cap off the unlikely comeback from an 18-point second half deficit. In Loyola head coach Kate Achter’s words, Loyola’s plan was to “get the ball to the kid who scored 28 points.”
That “kid” was Loyola senior guard Ellie Rice. She already had a career-high 28 points as she ran toward the basket and caught a pass from junior forward Allison Day. However, a pair of Drake defenders contested Rice and she was forced to take a difficult shot as the seconds ticked away.
The ball bounced off the backboard and the Bulldogs secured the rebound. After Loyola committed a foul, Drake senior guard Maddie Monahan sank a pair of free throws with 0.4 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 68-64 victory at Gentile Arena.
“We drew up the play and when I got it on the block I was just trying to find any way to score and try to get [the ball] in the air,” Rice said. “We got an attempt and that’s all you can ask for.”
Loyola was swept by Drake in the two-game series Feb. 5-6 and went from second place in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) at the start of the weekend to a tie for fifth place.
With the Feb. 6 loss, the Ramblers have now lost 15 straight games against Drake and are 1-16 in the all-time series against the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs didn’t miss a beat from the 29-point win the night prior, jumping out to a 17-3 lead to start the game. Loyola showed some signs of life late in the first quarter, but Drake still led 21-10 heading into the second quarter.
In the Feb. 5 game, Drake outscored Loyola 28-7 in the second period. The Ramblers fared better in the period in the Feb. 6 game, but Drake still outscored Loyola 16-13 to extend the Bulldogs’ lead to 14 points at halftime.
Rice scored 13 first-half points on 5-for-10 shooting. The rest of the Ramblers shot 4-for-18 in the half with nobody making more than one shot.
Similar to the Feb. 5 loss, rebounding was once again an issue for Loyola. The Bulldogs grabbed 23 rebounds in the first half, while Loyola managed just eight.
Loyola managed to flip the script in the second half. Drake extended its lead to 18 points with 4:22 remaining in the third quarter — its largest of the game. However, immediately after that, the Ramblers rattled off a 14-5 run to end the period.
In total, Loyola outscored Drake 23-18 in the third quarter. Rice had 10 points in the period, including a pair of three-points near the end of the quarter to cut Loyola’s deficit to single digits.
“I just came into the second half trying to look for those openings in the defense,” Rice said. “I was able to find them pretty early, and that just kind of rolled the ball for the rest of the half.”
The Ramblers maintained the momentum in the fourth quarter. Loyola slowly chipped away at Drake’s lead, and a layup by first-year forward Sitori Tanin brought the Ramblers to within a single point with 12 seconds remaining in the game. Tanin was the only other Rambler to finish in double figures, adding 12 points off the bench.
While ultimately coming up short, the Ramblers outscored the Bulldogs 18-13 in the final period.
“Our goal defensively, despite being punched in the mouth in the first quarter, we wanted to give up 17 points or less per quarter, and we did that,” Achter said. “Anytime that you can hold Drake under 70 points, you give yourselves a chance to win, and I thought we did that today.”
Although Rice wasn’t able to sink her shot, Achter said her squad executed her play call perfectly. Overall, she said she trusts Rice on offense, even on contested looks.
“I saw a senior mentality,” Achter said about Rice’s performance. “I just have been reiterating to her I love her shot selection and even when she does force it, we still need her to do that because she commands the defense.”
Achter mentioned her team played much more zone defense Feb. 6 after Loyola struggled to contain Drake’s offense Feb. 5. In a zone defense, players guard a “zone” — or a spot on the floor — rather than sticking with an individual offensive player.
“Why waste our energy chasing them around and giving up layups?” Achter said about her decision to go with a zone. “So, we went to zone to take away points in the paint, which we did. Yesterday, we gave up 50 [points in the paint]. Today, we gave up 26 [points in the paint], which was pretty good.”
Rice said she was impressed with her team’s ability to adjust to a zone since she said they hadn’t run a zone for the majority of a game this season prior to the Feb. 6 loss.
The Bulldogs entered the Feb. 6 game ranked No. 43 out of 343 teams in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) — a ranking system used to help determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, Loyola was No. 158.
Loyola entered the series against the Bulldogs boasting the eighth-best three-point defense in the nation — holding opponents to 23.8 percent from beyond the arc this season. However, Drake shot 45.5 percent from downtown Feb. 6 against the Ramblers.
The Ramblers are scheduled to travel to Indiana to play a two-game series against the University of Evansville Feb. 12-13. Tip-off for both games is set for 6 p.m. and the Feb. 12 game is slated to air on ESPN3.