Are the Maroons saving the best for last?

By Dimitri Islam

Don’t look now, but the women’s basketball team is making a very, very serious late-season run. After opening the season at 3-8, the Maroons have now won five out of their past six games. Moreover, their victories have been big. After stunning #3 NYU two weekends ago, the Maroons kept their momentum up on their home turf, first beating Carnegie Mellon University last Friday 54-53, and then defeating the University of Rochester on Sunday 51-47. The pair of wins brings Chicago’s current record up to 8-9. Perhaps more impressively, the Maroons now boast a 4-3 record in the University Athletic Association. With the 4-3 record, the women’s squad is now tied for third place in the UAA with rival NYU.

Against Carnegie Mellon, the Maroons played a lackluster first half. Perhaps still drained from the emotional taxation of last week’s triumph over NYU, Chicago just didn’t play convincingly in the first twenty minutes of the game. Carnegie came into the game with an unimpressive 1-4 UAA record, but the gutsy players from Pittsburgh kept Chicago on their toes. Going into the second half, Carnegie actually led 32-27.

In the second half, however, the Maroons turned the tide. Chicago tightened their defense and began to overpower Carnegie. Third-year guard Laura Hebel again led the Maroons in scoring, this time pouring in 16 points. True to her reputation as a deadly three-point shooter, Hebel nailed four three-pointers in the game, and she led the team in rebounds, grabbing eight. Second-year guard Paula Lepka also pitched in with 14 points of her own, and she played solid defense, recording two steals.

Nevertheless, despite these solid performances, Carnegie stayed close for the duration of the game. With time running down in the second half, second-year forward Lauren Colletti coolly sank two crucial free throws, giving the Maroons a 54-53 lead. Carnegie never managed to score again, and Chicago wound up winning yet another key UAA game. After the game, head coach Jennifer Kroll was pleased with her team’s effort.

“We didn’t play too well in the first twenty minutes, but we put it together in the last twenty minutes of the game,” Kroll said. “It was a close game, but we have to learn how to win these.”

Injury also played a role in the Maroons’ win over Carnegie Mellon.

“Their best player was injured, but they still played well without her,” Kroll said. “You hate to beat a team that’s not at full strength, but it’s still a win.”

Chicago again opened rather slowly against the University of Rochester on Sunday. Once again, their opponent jumped out ahead, and the Maroons needed the second twenty minutes of play to catch up. Rochester played tough defense, and Chicago had some trouble scoring in the first half. Accordingly, when the buzzer sounded for halftime, Rochester took a 21-18 lead into the locker room.

True to form, the Maroons regrouped in the second half and eventually overtook their opponents. After a slow first half, the Maroon offense picked up steam, as Chicago scored 33 points in the second half. Accordingly, after Chicago applied pressure in the latter twenty minutes, Rochester folded. Yet again, several Maroons played well. Hebel, true to form, led the team in scoring, tallying 16 points and hitting three three-pointers. Lepka added 15, and fourth-year forward Katie Miller scored 11. Given these performances, Kroll had nothing but praise for her team.

“Laura Hebel is a great shooter, she’s something like sixth in the country in three-point shooting,” Kroll said. ” Jamie Bleck is a good ballhandler for us, Angel Korer is a good presence inside, and we’re just generally pretty balanced overall.”

The balance showed at the end of the Rochester game. Lepka made a lay-up with 15 seconds left, icing the game for the Maroons. Chicago earned a 51-47 win, their fifth in six tries. After the game, Kroll was quite happy with her team’s development this season.

“The outcome at the beginning of the season didn’t surprise me much. We played some tough teams, and our players have really stepped up after that,” Kroll said. “Our goal has always been to reach our potential, not just win a certain amount of games or place somewhere specific in the UAA. We get better every day, and my hope is that we continue to get better as the season progresses.”

The Maroons hit the road for the upcoming weekend, facing Rochester today and then Carnegie Mellon on Sunday. After beating these two teams last weekend, the Maroons are confident of their chances at the away games. Of course, both Rochester and Carnegie Mellon now have had the chance to scout the Maroons, and that could be a factor in this weekend’s matchups.

“Both teams will definitely be better prepared for us, even though they prepared real well for us last weekend,” Kroll said. “We’re going to try to change our defense up a little bit, try to keep them off-balance. Then we just want to execute our offense. Against both teams, execution will be very important.”