Women’s hoops falls back to Earth

By Chris Boots

Just days after climbing to the top of the coaches’ poll for the first time in program history, women’s basketball took a brutally hard fall.

On the same weekend in which the nation’s only other undefeated squad, sixth-ranked Howard Payne, dropped its first decision, the 13th-ranked Maroons (16–2, 5–2) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with a thud Friday with a 75–66 loss to 12th-ranked NYU (16–2, 5–2). Hoping to bounce back on Sunday, the home team clung to a small lead at the half but slipped toward the end and looked lethargic throughout as 17th-ranked Brandeis (14–3, 4–3) came out on top 57–48.

For five minutes Friday, the showdown with NYU looked like a mismatch in favor of the home team. After the Violets drew first blood with a basket from fourth-year guard Stephanie Ryba, the Maroons, aided by six quick points from third-year forward Nicaya Rapier, surged to a 15–6 lead. Unfortunately, Ryba continued to give Chicago’s defense fits, going on to score 16 points in the first 11 minutes of the contest.

Struggling to stay in front of their visitors, the South Siders saw their lead whittled down to 18–16 before the Violets rattled off a game-breaking 18–0 run. The home five found themselves down 34-–18 as they adjusted to the unfamiliar situation of playing from behind. While the Maroons rediscovered their scoring touch before halftime, they still had no answer on defense and entered the break trailing 43–29.

Things would get worse before they’d get better for the Maroons in the second stanza. Giving a hint of the scoring explosion to come, second-year forward Jessica McEntee got the ball rolling for the Violets with the first of back-to-back layups that gave the squad its largest cushion of the game. Countering with a rush of points from third-year guard Nofi Mojidi and first-year forward Molly Hackney, Chicago pushed forward to cut the difference down to seven at 49–42 and bring the crowd back into the game. After NYU took a timeout to regroup, the Maroons’ momentum continued as two frees from fourth-year guard Korry Schwanz and a trey from first-year guard Jamie Stinson poised the team for the comeback at 51–47.

With the lead whittled down to a two-possession game, Chicago could not snag those last points, searching for space to sink a basket while the Violets stretched the deficit back to 10 at 60–50. Watching their undefeated status slip from their grasp, the Maroons gave up 10 points on foul shots in the final minutes, canceling out the offense they managed to scrap together. Usually spot-on from the floor, Chicago’s offense put up a 33.8 percent on field goals, with Mojidi and Rapier leading the team at 16 points apiece.

“We had a tough stretch in the first half,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “They went on a run and took control of the game. Defensively, we gave them what they wanted too many times and never made things uncomfortable or difficult for them. We buckled down and got stops in the second half, but whenever things got really close they made tough baskets.

“We did a great job coming back, but then NYU converted on a couple three-point plays and made a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. When you have to play perfectly to get back into the game, those baskets become killers.”

Coming out Sunday against Brandeis, Chicago seemed shaken from Friday’s loss and came out with a revamped starting lineup, switching Stinson in at point guard for second-year Alex Leach. The Maroons allowed the Judges to take an early 5–1 lead before a layup from first-year forward Anna Woods put the home team back on top at 6–5.

Draining a jumper, Hackney gave the Maroons their largest margin of the game at 10–5, before Brandeis tied it up at 14–14 in the last minutes of the half. Possession was passed back and forth, but a Mojidi layup with five minutes remaining gave Chicago a tenuous lead, and the offense stayed afloat with a 22–19 spread at the half.

Returning to the court, it looked like the team would be able to extend its lead with Hackney immediately sinking a basket. Far from being taken out of the game, however, the Judges resurged and took charge of a 33–31 game with a three from first-year guard Carmela Breslin.

Two from the foul line by Schwanz tied it up again, until another trey from Breslin gave Brandeis the edge for good. Breslin hit another trey moments later to widen the Judges margin, and a Chicago timeout didn’t stop the advance as back-to-back field goals put the Maroons down 43–35.

Schwanz drained a three with 37 seconds left in regulation to give Chicago a chance, but it wasn’t enough to wrest the game out of the visitors’ hands, as the Judges hit their free throws and the gavel came down on the Maroons at 57–48.

Continuing the offensive difficulties that the team experienced Friday night, the Maroons shot a season-low 26.5 percent, with Mojidi snagging 12 points to lead the squad yet again.

“Sunday, we just came out flat and lacked the resiliency that I know this team possesses,” Roussell said. “I just thought we let opportunities pass us by. We did a nice job on them defensively, but in the end it went to waste. We struggled offensively; we did a lot of things uncharacteristic of what we normally do, and that hurt us.”

Down but not out, the Maroons can get back into the thick of things in the UAA race with a quick turnaround next weekend. Chicago’s schedule gives the team a chance for redemption when they take on both NYU and Brandeis on the East Coast Friday and Sunday.

“We will bounce back,” Roussell said, “and I know we will be known for our toughness and resiliency by season’s end.”