No. 1 Drury tops Lindenwood, advances to conference final

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— A dominating start on Saturday made certain that Drury University would be in a position to win its record fourth-consecutive title in the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament.

The number one-ranked Lady Panthers stormed to a 21-point over Lindenwood in the first quarter, a display that quickly foreshadowed the eventual outcome.

They pushed the advantage to 30 midway through the third quarter before finishing off the 89-67 victory to climb to 31-0 this season.

Senior Hailey Diestelkamp led the Lady Panthers with 21 points, including 15 in the dominating 46-26 first half. Paige Robinson scored 18 — and again displayed a growing versatility in her game with a personal record for the second straight contest. She had career-high eight assists on Saturday after pulling down eight rebounds in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over Maryville.

“My shot wasn’t falling the best (early), so I was looking to whoever was open,” said Robinson, who also made five steals.

“She’s got this complete package now,” Drury head coach Molly Miller said about the sophomore guard. “Her defense is coming along very well.”

Senior guard Daejah Bernard had four assists and four steals. She moved within one from becoming the third player in team history to surpass 400 steals in her career. Diestelkamp is six steals away from that mark.

Robinson led Drury’s early charge by making a steal at center court and driving for the first points of the game. She had four steals, and six assists in the first half as the Lady Panthers led 46-26. 

“That first steal was huge,” Robinson said. “That led to more forced turnovers and baskets.”

Drury made 16 steals and forced 28 turnovers by the Lions, who dropped to 19-9. They were 14-6 in the conference regular season and the fifth seed in the GLVC tournament.

Lindenwood mounted a charge in the third quarter, thanks to a lot of inside baskets by the taller front line, but Drury still led 68-50 after three quarters. Forward Kallie Bildner and guard Julia Ruzevich scored 17 apiece to lead the Lions. 

Miller challenged her team to a fast start after getting off to some slower ones in recent games. “From (our rosters) one to 15, we bought into the high energy,” she said. “That was nice to see.”

There were several other step-up performers involved in this victory. Emily Parker scored 11 points in the second half and 14 overall. Payton Richards scored 13 and Azia Lynch eight.

“Azia and Payton gave us a lift,” Miller said. “Emily had a great game. We needed her minutes.” 

Parker and Diestelkamp had six rebounds apiece to lead the Lady Panthers.

Drury earned a matchup with third-seeded Lewis at 1 p.m. Sunday in First Community Arena at Edwardsville, Ill. The Flyers (19-11) held off Bellarmine 76-65 in Saturday’s first semifinal.

Drury defeated Lewis 114-63 on Feb. 6 in O’Reilly Family Event Center.

That result won’t matter during tournament time, Robinson said, because every team the rest of the season will be gunning to beat the Lady Panthers, who have been ranked number one all season in NCAA Division II women’s basketball.

“We have to start fast against them. You know they will come out on fire,” she said. “Everyone wants to take down number on. We have a target on our backs.”

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