Sports

North Central edges Maroons 66-63 in upset

For the women’s basketball team, more and more games seem to be just slipping away in the game’s final minutes.

After dropping two games in four days, the women’s basketball team will be drilling hard to improve its play on the boards, according to coach Jennifer Kroll.

“Rebounds were the most important part of both of those games,” she said. “We’re playing good half-court defense and we’re making some great plays on offense, but you cannot give your opponents 20 more possessions a game. You can’t win like that.”

The team dropped a heartbreaker to North Central College 66-63 Tuesday night at Naperville, and suffered a tough loss on the road to seventh-ranked Washington University 81-61 on Saturday. They were badly beaten in the battle for the boards in both games, out-rebounded 43-27 by North Central and 57-26 by the Bears.

“At North Central, we were up by nine with six minutes to go, and we gave up three shots in a row to let them back in. You can’t win games that way,” Kroll said.

“The game went as we thought it would. It was about who got to more loose balls, who had fewer turnovers and more rebounds. If we can pull down one more rebound in that game, we would have won,” she said.

While North Central is not in the UAA, Kroll commented that the defeat by the Cardinals was tough mentally because it was a game Chicago should have won. “Washington is a top-10 team. We expect them to be good,” she said. “We felt like we should have beaten North Central.”

Second-year forward Susie Gutowski agreed.

“These losses are good for us. They’ve shown us major weaknesses in our play, and we can fix them,” she said. “I don’t think any one of our team members are concerned with our record. We play each game with a clean slate. I’d be more worried if I were Case and Emory, who are coming to play a team that has so much talent and is hungrier than any other team in the league for a win.”

Kroll cited several other positive signs from the past week’s games.

“Washington doubled up on us on rebounds, and we only ended up losing by 20 points. We should have been blown out by 40 with those numbers. This means we’re playing a high quality game in all other aspects. We’re great up until the moment of the shot. They’re taking the shots we want them to take, and we’re not capitalizing,” she said.

The Maroons also shot 47.9 percent from the field against North Central, the first time they had broken 40 percent as a team since December 7.

It will be another rough-and-tumble season in the UAA, which has featured five national champions in the last eight seasons, and may earn three bids to the NCAA tournament this year, a rarity in Division III.

North Central was the last non-conference contest for the Maroons for two and a half weeks, a critical stretch of six league games.

“These games are going to be big…when it’s a UAA game, we take a loss a lot more personally. We feel as though we’re rivals with so many of them,” Gutowski said.

The Maroons face off tonight against Case Western Reserve in its first “Pack the Place Night,” a new effort to rally Maroon fans for home games. The team will host Emory on Sunday.

“Case will really be a battle. If they get their heads in the game early, they can really roll. It’s going to be an in-your-face, physical game and there’s going to be more than the usual amount of trash-talk on the court. We need to get in their heads, take good shots, and pull down rebounds. If we do, this is a winnable game,” Kroll said, adding that it would be “great to get a confidence-building win here.”

Gutowski said that the Maroons would be helped by the presence of so many Chicago fans at this game. “Case should be a little nervous about Pack the Place Night. We definitely get pumped by our fans,” she said.

Emory, led by two freshmen and a new coach, is something of a mystery to the Maroons.

“We need to write a new book on the Eagles,” Kroll said.

The team travels to Brandeis on January 23 to face a Judges squad that has shown significant improvement in the past few years and features a very strong freshman class.

“They’ve got a good sagging-zone defense. We’ll get plenty of shots. If they fall, we’ll be very competitive in this game,” Kroll said.

The road trip will continue January 25 with a game at 20th-ranked New York University, one of the toughest venues in Division III basketball.

“We’ve split with the Violets the past few years. We’re not going to get away with sneaking up on them,” Kroll added.

The team is not looking at any new strategy to combat the season-long trend of tight, late losses.

“It’s hard to concentrate on anything but rebounds right now. Anytime we out-rebound our opponents, we’re going to be in the game. We don’t want to be winning games by two points and getting creamed on the boards,” Kroll said. “We’re not hanging our heads. Our effort and focus are good, and we’ve got a lot of heart on this team. The players don’t know yet what they are capable of. Once they find out and start playing consistently, we’re going to be a very good team.”

The Maroons, 4-7, have now lost four games by four points or fewer.