They say that in life there are no second chances, but the Maroons got one in Friday’s contest against Rochester to avenge their February 3 loss in upstate New York. Chicago made a statement not only by defeating the seventh-ranked team in the country, but by taking apart another UAA opponent in a dominating fashion.
Chicago swept this weekend’s home games, defeating the Yellowjackets (17–3, 7–2 UAA) 56–46 Friday and pounding Carnegie Mellon (7–13, 0–9) 67–38 Sunday to improve to 15–5 overall and 6–3 in the UAA.
Rochester knew its road dominance would be put to the test against the Maroons, who sought to avenge their six-point loss in the friendly confines of the Gerald Ratner Center.
“We changed the game plan in terms of starters and chose the players that matched up the best with Rochester and at the same time worked well together,” fourth-year guard Nofi Mojidi said of the adjustments Chicago used in its return bout with Rochester.
Head coach Aaron Roussell didn’t just adjust his lineup slightly; he replaced all five of his starters, putting in an entirely new group to lead off the game. Roussell went from an alignment of four guards and one forward last Sunday to a more conventional arrangement with two guards, two forwards, and a center. He would have to wait until the end of the game to see the change pay its dividends.
Falling behind early, the Maroons were able to stay close and took their first lead of the game with five minutes to go in the first half. A fast-paced tempo as well as key defensive stops kept the Maroons ahead by a slight margin of 24–23 going into the locker room.
Coming out of the break, the Yellowjackets showed their resilience, retaking the lead on the first basket of the second stanza. Chicago hung tough, however, never letting the margin balloon into double digits. With 8:23 remaining, Roussell called a timeout, his team down by a score of 43–38.
Determined not to let the next eight minutes repeat the letdown of their previous meeting, the Maroons went on an 18–3 run to snatch the victory from their UAA rivals.
“We weren’t really worried about the rankings. We knew we could beat Rochester; it was just a matter of when and where,” Mojidi said.
The win solidified Chicago’s place as one of the UAA’s top-tier teams and sent Rochester into a tie with Wash U for the conference crown.
“The key to our success in any game is to make good decisions, no turnovers, and get to the free throw line,” fourth-year guard Nicaya Rapier said of the basic ingredients of success for the Maroons.
It turns out Rapier was right on point as Chicago dominated the entire game against the Tartans Sunday afternoon, rebounding and taking care of the ball better than its counterparts. In the blowout victory, the Maroons kept the Pittsburgh natives winless in the UAA.
For the second straight game, Roussell used his bigger lineup, building on the success of the roster shakeup two nights before.
Just under four minutes into the action, Roussell replaced his entire starting five after a slow beginning. The move paid off, with Chicago going on an 11–0 run over the next three minutes.
The stifling Maroons defense held Carnegie to an abysmal 14.8 percent in field goal–shooting before halftime, including 0–11 from outside the arc. Shooting 40 percent themselves, the Maroons headed into the locker room with a comfortable 20-point cushion, 33–13.
Not resting on the lead, Chicago came out firing after the break, widening their lead to as much as 28 points in the first ten minutes. A few first-years got significant playing time in the lopsided win, including first-year guard Claire Gerall. Gerall scored nine points, grabbed four boards, and a dished out an assist in just 11 minutes of playing time, further proving the Maroons depth on the bench and for the future.
“I was very excited to have the opportunity to play. I hope my performance in Sunday’s game will increase their confidence in me. I worked hard all year knowing that when my opportunity to play finally came, I would contribute,” Gerall said.
With the wins Chicago moved into a second-place tie with Brandeis in the UAA standing, with one more head-to-head match up with the women from Boston ahead.
But before their rematch with Brandeis, the Maroons have their second contest against Emory (11–9, 4–5), in Georgia on Sunday. The Eagles will be looking for revenge for their two-point loss in Chicago, while the South-Siders will have another chance to prove themselves worthy of being considered a top team in the UAA.