Buzzer beater busts women’s hoops weekend

By Kate Fratar

Women’s basketball may have split a pair of games last weekend, but there was little cause for celebration. The team’s turnover woes continued and new injuries will add to their tribulations as they struggle for a strong finish to the season.

The Maroons (16–6, 5–6) had another up-and-down weekend. A 54–36 victory over Emory on Friday cost them an injury to second-year forward Nicaya Rapier, and a buzzer-beater handed the squad a heart-wrenching 69–68 loss to Case on Sunday.

“We knew we couldn’t afford to lose against Case,” said third-year guard Korry Schwanz. “Hopefully it will give us a little motivation to grab the next three games.”

Limiting the Spartans Friday night to a 19.4 shooting percentage from the field while putting up a 31.8 shooting percentage, Chicago controlled the court and the flow of the game.

“To hold a team to 19 percent shooting requires them to miss some shots,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “But on the flip side of that you also have some very good defense.”

Emory managed its only lead of the game early in the opening frame when first-year guard Erica Kaplan netted one from downtown, and within 30 seconds of her shot, third-year guard Beth Bergmann banked a jumper for a 5–4 advantage. Fourth-year power forward Jenn Kaiser answered their buckets with a layup and then a three-pointer to put the Maroons on top 9–5 with 14:10 left in the first. Chicago maintained control from there to enter the break up 26–17, as second-year guard Nofi Mojidi and first-year guard Alex Leach’s combination of strength and mobility completely outmatched Emory’s post players.

For the first time in five games, the Maroons came out strong in the last 20 minutes against the Eagles. They boosted their lead to as high as a 21-point margin, going ahead 49–28 with 4:53 remaining on the clock before closing out the game 54–36.

The Spartans rolled into town with a 2–8 mark in league play and having dropped the last three out of four matchups with Chicago. In the first game at Cleveland last month, the Maroons had to pull out a 70–62 comeback victory. This time, they would have to do it without Rapier.

Going for a layup in the Emory game, Rapier landed hard after the shot and immediately grabbed her left knee. After initial tests by the trainer, it looks like a torn ACL, an injury Rapier suffered in high school. She has an MRI today, and will probably have to sit out the rest of the season.

“There’s a big void to fill on the boards with her gone,” Schwanz said. “It’s what she does best, and everyone will have to step it up with her out.”

Chicago started the game firing on all cylinders. Gutowski led the charge in the post, connecting for 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting and leading the squad to a 60.6 first-half shooting mark. Throwing sharper passes in transition, the Maroons collected 15 assists to an impressively low 8 turnovers. Fourth-year point guard Janae Winner was the key distributor, earning seven first-half assists to only one turnover.

The long-range passes allowed the offense to get behind Case’s full-court press and run the ball to a wide-open net. Playing with an injured thumb from Thursday’s practice, Mojidi collected two steals at half court and turned them into easy layups. She finished the weekend posting 11.5 points per game.

Behind 29–18 with eight minutes left in the half, the Spartans kicked their game into a higher gear and brought the score to within two points. In the final three minutes, three buckets from Leach and a 15-foot jumper from Gutowski at the buzzer helped restore Chicago’s lead to 41–34 going into the break. Gutowski and Leach were major offensive contributors on the weekend, averaging 12 and 10 points per game.

“The first half we shot really well, and the big difference in the second was we started turning over the ball,” Schwanz said. “They put that press on us, and we should have been able to handle it, but instead we turned it over.”

In the second stanza, the Spartans continued chipping away at the Maroons’ advantage, making Chicago pay for its 16 turnovers. Third-year guard Dana Dempsey’s trey tied the game at 47 all with 15:28 left to play, and fourth-year forward Carmen Rowan put Case on top, sinking one from the line and forcing Chicago to play catch up for a six-minute stretch.

With 3:45 left, Kaiser netted a timely three, and it looked like the Maroons would scrape together the win until fouls by Gutowski and Leach sent three Spartans to the line in the last two minutes. Case sunk four of six attempts as the Chicago shooters went cold, evening the game at 67 with 30 seconds left.

“We kind of lost our composure,” Roussell said. “We should have executed a little bit better, taken care of the basketball, and made some better decisions, and it wouldn’t have come down to that final shot.”

With the possibility of overtime looming, Leach stole the ball at half-court and drew a hard foul going for the layup. She connected on one of her two free throws to put Chicago up 68–67 with just 3.5 seconds on the clock.

Rowan pulled down the rebound on Leach’s missed second free throw, looked for an open pass, and instead called a timeout after two more seconds came off the clock. With 1.4 seconds remaining and a minor miracle needed, third-year guard Maria Jackson launched a 30-foot, right-handed pass to second-year forward Ashley Horton, who received the ball about 15 feet out, turned, and put up a last-second jumper. In the blink of an eye, the Spartans dog piled Horton underneath the basket with the 69–68 win in their pockets.

“Quite frankly, if you want to be simple about it, we’re turning the ball over too much to win,” Roussell said. “It’s unbelievable that you can shoot 50 percent and still lose a basketball game.”

Chicago has three games to go on the season against three ranked teams. The squad starts the weekend’s Northeast swing against NYU (18–4, 7–4) Friday and then takes on Brandeis (17–3, 8–3) two days later.