Bears stand in the way of automatic NCAA bid

The women’s basketball team will head south to St. Louis to compete against Washington U for the UAA title and a bid to the NCAA tournament.

By Russell Mendelson

This weekend the Maroons head down I-55 to take on the only roadblock in front of stretching their winning streak to 13 games.

Chicago (18–6, 12–1 UAA) will have to defeat the No. 9 Bears (22–2, 11–2) in order to claim sole possession of the UAA conference title. The last time the South Siders lost was against this same Wash U team on January 10 in what was their first conference game of the season. Since that loss, however, the Maroons have won every inter-conference game, with 11 of those 12 winning margins in double digits.

“[W]e are very excited to play Washington University in St. Louis this weekend and prove how much we have grown as a team since we last saw them,” said fourth-year forward Ali Shaw on the upcoming season finale. “Our focus going into this week’s game is the same as it has been these past weeks. We know we are a tough team to beat if we play our defense and control the tempo of the game.”

A large part of the Maroons’ success has been a rock-solid defense, which is one of the most likely reasons for the large point differentials between them and their opponents. Chicago has only let the competition outscore them during three game-halves of their 12-game winning streak. In addition, all of those instances took place in the second half when the Maroons had already pulled ahead.

“We are very proud of our defense. It is something our coaches have put a lot of time into developing and it has become a part of our identity,” said Shaw on the team’s defensive prowess. “It is really great when we play as a unit out on the court, not a lot of teams practice against that much pressure, so it makes it hard for them to do what they want on offense.”

Shaw also acknowledged that for the upcoming season finale, the Maroons will be sure to work on their defense during practice so as to keep up their dominant performance.

Like Shaw, fourth-year guard Claire Devaney stressed the importance of controlling the tempo of the game as well as maintaining a strong rebounding presence.

“Controlling the tempo of the game will be extremely important for us on Saturday. In order to do that, it starts with winning the rebounding battle,” explained Devaney, the only member of the team with total rebounds this year in the triple digits at 152 (104 defensive). “If we can control the boards and control the tempo I think we will put ourselves in a great position to win.”

The UAA is the only conference in DIII that does not decide its champion via a tournament and subsequently who receives a bid for the national tournament. Generally 44 of the 64 spots are determined by the 43 conference tournament champions, plus the UAA’s best record holder, and 20 spots are left at large for a committee to decide on. In order to ensure a bid, the Maroons must defeat Wash U to be the only holder of the best record in the UAA. If they lose and share the UAA championship with the Bears, the Maroons will have to wait to learn if they receive an at-large bid.

Chicago plans to dispel any need for this uncertain determination as tipoff begins at 1 p.m. tomorrow in St. Louis.