Slow starts, no finishes as women falls: Life’s a beach as hoops squads swept in Ratner stands

By Sean Ahmed

Two deep holes Friday and Sunday proved to be enough to bury the Maroons for the third time in five games, and they now find themselves trying to dig out of another one in the conference standings. Having had their sights set on a conference championship and an NCAA berth, the Maroons are now looking to just get back above ground.

In a weekend where the 20th-ranked women’s basketball team (13–3, 2–3) was hoping to avenge last year’s 1–3 mark against NYU and Brandeis and establish itself atop the conference, Chicago ended up playing hosts to a pair of shockers. Poor free-throw shooting downed the Maroons’ comeback efforts Friday in a 92–85 overtime loss to the seventh-ranked Judges (12–1, 3–1), and flat, lackadaisical defense doomed Chicago against the 18th-ranked Violets (15–1, 4–1). The Maroons had a handful of good individual performances, but just as notable were some disappointing ones that led to benchings late Sunday.

The Chicago team’s struggles are related to its transition from hunter to hunted. After a season as spoilers, the Maroons have already been spoiled three times themselves in the still-young UAA season.

“Last season no one expected us to do anything. Every game we came out playing to prove something and we showed a lot of fire,” said third-year shooting guard Korry Schwanz, who averaged 17 points per game last weekend. “This year we’ll play with a lot of fire at times, but it is not consistent and we’re not aggressors from the tip. We dig ourselves a hole and then eventually we turn it up and make a run.

“It worked in our pre-conference games but it’s not going to cut it in the UAA. Hopefully we finally learned that lesson this weekend.”

Brandeis’s early play made sure Chicago had the proper classroom materials. Though third-year standout forward Caitlin Malcolm was a non-factor in the first half, contributing only four points and three rebounds down low, her guards picked her up with lights-out shooting. Second-year Courtney Tremblay and fourth-year Amanda DeMartino combined for 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting, as the Judges utilized an unexpected outside attack.

After a 9–0 Judges run midway through the period put Chicago down 32–17, Schwanz, second-year guard Nofi Mojidi, and third-year power forward Jenn Kaiser hit their own big shots to keep the game within reach. Brandeis matched those big shots down the stretch, with DeMartino following a layup with a pair of treys in the last three minutes to put her team up 44–34 at the break.

Chicago clawed its way back thanks to some more big shots from beyond the arc. Kaiser had two threes and Schwanz had one in the first three-plus minutes to draw the game within two points, and fourth-year forward Susie Gutowski’s layup-and-one at 14:45 put her team up (52–51) for the first time all game. Gutowski finished with 10 points and 9 boards despite playing limited minutes after getting into foul trouble early in the first half.

The two teams traded the lead seven more times, as the two evenly matched teams both played well in a high-scoring affair. DeMartino ended up putting her team in danger by fouling Gutowski on a trey attempt while up 76–75 with 2:25 left. The normally solid All-American made her first to tie it but missed the next two.

DeMartino (13 points, 3 boards, 5 assists) hurt her own cause again with a late technical foul arguing a call up 79–77. Schwanz, who went four for four in the game and perfect in 10 on the weekend, hit both to tie the game at 79-all. She was the only Maroon who shot better than 50 percent from the stripe. Her efforts provided the last buckets of regulation.

In the extra session, second-year guard Jamie Capra (14 points, 10 boards) hit both of her free-throw attempts to start things, and Malcolm (21, 9) was successful on an and-one after Gutowski fouled her on a layup. Though Schwanz (16 points) cut the five point deficit down to 84–82 with 2:41 left and Kaiser (19 points on 5-for-6 three-point shooting) cut it back down to five with 28 seconds left, Brandeis hit 7 of 11 charity shots in OT to win 92–85.

“The biggest reason we lost was how we came out. We played well enough to win, but so did Brandeis,” Roussell said. “It was one of those things where somebody has to lose, and we did. Obviously, being on the short end of it is tough, but it’s easy to say if we don’t get down 14 points, we win, and everything’s fine.”

After that hard-fought battle, the Maroons came out uninspired Sunday against NYU, allowing the visitors to hold the lead for the entire game. The Chicago defense was outrun and outgunned by an athletic Violets team that beat the hosts at their own fast-break game. NYU earned 14 first-half assists and 25 overall as the team created a number of easy baskets and shot 56 percent for the game. The Maroons’ defense also gave up a 53-percent performance Friday against Brandeis.

“We were just outplayed for the majority of the two games this past weekend. If it’s a matter of effort there’s not much that can be said to get us going,” Schwanz said. “Each and every one of us has to have that killer attitude to out-tough teams for 40 minutes, and we lack that right now.”

Down 45–29 at the break, Roussell decided it was time to make a change to wake up his team, and he kept Kaiser, Gutowski, and fourth-year point guard Janae Winner on the bench for much of the first 10 minutes. The trio was only 2 for 14 from the field over the first 20 minutes.

“A lot of that was because we needed a spark,” Roussell said. “A lot of times it’s not what somebody did wrong, but it’s someone who deserves some time to play.”

Second-year forward Nicaya Rapier (9 points, 13 boards) played a career-high 33 minutes and was joined out of the break by Schwanz (18 points), Mojidi (16 points), first-year Alex Leach, and second-year Naomi Tesfamikael. Leach joined Rapier as a super-sub, scoring a career-high 19 points on 6-for-12 shooting to lead the team.

“You saw what Alex can do,” Roussell said. “Part of that is why hasn’t she done that to this point. She has to get to the point where we can rely on her to give us something. She doesn’t have to give us 19 every game, but she’s got to play hard and play well to improve us.”

A 10–2 run gave the Violets their biggest lead of the game at 23 with 15:22 left. Chicago went on a 30–7 surge over the next 10 minutes to close the deficit down to five, but the exhaustion quickly set in and NYU recovered to rebuild a double-digit lead and win 83–71.

“If you had told me we would be down five with five minutes left, I would be fine, but you expend a lot of energy to get back to 5 after being down 23. But we dug that kind of hole, and that’s been our M.O. too many times this season,” Roussell said.

Now with a sub-.500 conference record for the first time in two years, the Maroons are on the outside looking in at a very tough UAA. Four teams stand above Chicago—NYU, Brandeis, Rochester (13–3, 4–1), and second-ranked Wash U (14–2, 4–1)—and the gap between the non-conference and conference schedules is becoming increasingly apparent. The Maroons have been relying too much on individual talent lately, and the league’s top teams have exploited lapses on defense and less efficient shooting. The opponents may be great but the women’s basketball team insists they can beat them all and that they only have to look inward to see why they haven’t been winning.

“The nice thing is that this year we just really need to fix ourselves,” Roussell said. “If we fix ourselves and we get better, we’re going to be fine, no matter what the other team does.”

Chicago completes their homestand this Friday and Sunday with games against Carnegie (5–11, 0–5) and Rochester.