With 14 minutes remaining in the game and the Maroons down by 19, the roughly 25 girl scouts in attendance didn’t let up on Case. With their feet rumbling the bleachers during the Spartans’ free throws, the troop made itself heard as the visitors missed 7 of 11 from the line during the team’s late collapse.
“Dang, those girl scouts were awesome,” third-year forward Susie Gutowski said. “I was on the block, waiting for a Case player to shoot a free throw, and all I hear is a billion 10-year-olds going crazy, trying to get them to miss.”
Women’s basketball (9-3, 3-0) channeled that thunder down the stretch, recovering from early defensive missteps to go on a persistent 31-11 run. The team grabbed a one-point lead with 6:48 left in the game when third-year guard Taryn Holgsh nailed a three-pointer to put the score at 68-67.
First-year Nicaya Rapier came off the bench and snagged a number of key reboundsincluding four offensive out of her 14 totalto keep Case (6-7, 1-2) from getting the second chances that had helped them build the early lead. Gutowski’s layup with 1:50 left put the team up 75-72, as the Maroons ate the clock and forced a series of off-balance shots to seal the comeback.
“It was a huge win for us,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “Even when we were down 19, I felt that the pace was going well for us. We drew up a play and ran it for 15 minutes, and I don’t think we went to much else.”
“It seems like someone new is stepping up each game to bring another dimension to our team,” third-year Janae Winner said. “Nicaya has really come through for us this last week. She is a rebounding machine.”
The guards took over the offense in the second half, with second-year guard Korry Schwanz, Holgash, and Winner each hitting threes to close the gap. They also found their forwards on the inside, setting up a number of easy layups that the team had struggled to get late in the first half.
While Case doggedly stuck within four points of the Maroons for the rest of the game, Holgash’s basket put the home team up for good. Chicago played relentless defense to hold off the Spartans.
“Case played harder than us the first half. They got the rebounds and the loose balls, and that killed us,” said Schwanz, who scored 17 points on 6-for-13 shooting and added two key free throws with five minutes left. “Finally we turned it around the second half by grabbing some boards and executing our offense. The momentum shifted in our favor, and we rode on that the rest of the game.”
“It’s an awesome feeling to know that if you’re not playing well, there is someone equally as talented waiting to come and step up,” added Gutowski, who led the team with 22 points and added 7 rebounds and 5 assists. “It’s exciting going into the game because you don’t know who is going to be the one that is going to have the big night. Maybe it’s Korry, maybe it’s [first-year Nofi Mojidi], but just as likely it’s three or four other bench players.”
Chicago played a tough game and forced their way to the foul line, earning 19 more free-throw attempts than the Spartans. Although the Maroons only made them at a 59 percent rate, they sunk 14 more than Case, easily the game’s difference. “If we get to the free-throw line 32 times, we’ll be OK,” said Roussell, adding that the low percentage was an aberration.
The win marked the Maroons’ sixth straight, including Friday night’s 78-60 easy win over Emory. Chicago picked away at the Eagles (3-9, 0-3) from the perimeter, sinking 8 of 13 first-half three pointers to build a 17-point halftime lead. Schwanz hit four threes as part of her game-leading 20 points, and added six rebounds. Mojidi scored 13 with three steals, and second-year Megan Prochaska had a season-high 11 points on a perfect 5-for-5 night.
Now sharing the UAA lead with seventh-ranked Brandeis (12-0, 3-0), the Maroons are looking to improve their first-half play. Chicago has outscored its opponents by 92 points in the second half, but has had to come back from a halftime deficit in three of its nine wins. Although late game performances have reflected well on the team’s confidence, the team knows that they won’t be as easy to pull off away from Ratner.
“It’s great for us to be 3-0 in perhaps the toughest league in America, especially going on the road,” Roussell said. “I’ve always said that we need to win at home because winning on the road in this league is very, very tough. I’m not exactly thrilled with how we got here, but we’ll take it.”
The Maroons host non-conference opponent Benedictine (8-7, 4-0) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the team’s last January home game. Although the game has no implications on the UAA championship, the team resists any notion that they are looking ahead to the weekend.
Chicago will have to contain Tamika Curtis, who is averaging 14.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The rest of the team only shoots 33 percent from the field, however. Still, the Maroons know that they need to set the pace from the beginning to keep on their hot streak heading into the weekend’s road games against Rochester (8-5, 1-2) and NYU (11-2, 2-1).
“It will give us an opportunity to show ourselves that we can get hot right from the beginning,” said Gutowski, adding the importance of the team’s recent, delicious post-game meals. “We don’t want to be a second-half team.’ This will be our chance to show we’re a 40-minutes of mayhem team.’”