Women’s hoops in four-way tie for first

By Chika Okafor

Most teams, when asked for the key to having a successful season, would say “Split on the road. Dominate at home.” This clichéd phrase has been spewed out of the mouths of many coaches and players alike. However, ignoring the well known saying, the Maroons were determined to win both of their UAA road games over the weekend.

Chicago (17–5, 8–3 UAA) emerged victorious from the away bouts against its conference foes with final scores dropping Emory (12–10, 5–6) 68–52 Friday and edging Case (11–11, 4–7) 59–54 Sunday, improving its road record to 8–4.

“Obviously I am very happy,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “I think any time you can go on the road in this league and get two wins, you’ve got to be happy with them. Most importantly for us, in this league, whatever it takes to win, you do that. I felt like we knew that if we defended and rebounded that we would be in position to win games. I think that was our mindset going in. Luckily we did both of those things well enough to come out on top.”

Against Emory, Chicago controlled the game from start to finish. With the score tied at 5–5, Chicago sank two shots from beyond the arc and added layups, increasing its lead to 15–7 and drawing a timeout from Emory. The regrouping, however, did not help, as the Maroons continued to increase their lead to 13 points by halftime, courtesy of second-year forward Molly Hackney who scored 12 of her game-high 18 points in the final seven minutes of the first half.

After the break, the Maroons maintained their sizable advantage. They matched Emory shot, for shot and with 13:28 left to go, Chicago began a 7–0 run capped off with a three-pointer by fourth-year guard Lori Tanaka. The streak led to the biggest lead of the contest at 19 points, essentially putting the game out of reach for the Eagles.

The Maroons played much more soundly against Emory when compared to the competitive match January 20 that ended 54–52 in favor of Chicago. The difference was that in Friday’s game, Chicago made good use of easy opportunities.

“We got off to a better start,” Roussell said. “I felt we had good chances to score against them the first time but we just weren’t making them. This time when we got the easy looks, we scored. We defended them well both games, but I thought the biggest difference was that we hit shots this game. I think we were a little more patient in getting the easy baskets the second time around.”

Against Case, the Maroons displayed their resilient attitude. Falling behind 20–5 early in the first half as a result of inept offense and an inability to defend the three-point line, the women righted the ship with a 17–6 effort to come within four points at halftime, giving the team momentum for good.

Chicago picked up right where it left off in the second half. In the first eight minutes following the break, the team went on an 18–2 run, expanding the lead to 40–28. The Maroons attacked the paint consistently during this span, drawing six free-throw attempts and making eight layups. The Spartans countered with a 10–2 run of their own, closing the gap to within four. Chicago answered by scoring the next eight points, but was unable to pull away from the Spartans. Case responded by converting on free-throw opportunities and getting easy baskets close to the rim to inch within one point of the Maroons at 55–54 with 1:37 remaining. Sealing the game for Chicago, Hackney drained a jumper at the 0:49 mark and sank two free throws with two seconds left to give the Maroons the win.

First-year guard Dana Kaplan scored a game-high and career-high 15 points on the day; she also gathered six rebounds to go with two assists and no turnovers.

“On Sunday I would say I tried to look for my shot more and find opportunities to take the ball to the basket,” Kaplan said. “I would definitely say I can attribute a lot of my open looks to the post players who rebounded and passed the ball quickly, allowing us to get shots on fast breaks. As a team, when we push the ball and play at a quicker pace, we take control of the game.”

Despite winning the two games over the weekend, the Maroons need to improve on different aspects of their offensive game, specifically their free-throw shooting. Chicago shoots 64 percent from the charity stripe, which puts them seventh out of the eight UAA squads. The Maroons overcame their free-throw deficiencies against Case, but their inability to drain the freebies could potentially be their downfall in future games.

“In a lot of ways, we escaped yesterday because we did the other things well but did not shoot free throws well,” Roussell said. “There will be some work on shooting free throws in practice this week for sure.”

This win puts Chicago in a four-way tie atop the conference along with Wash U, Brandeis, and Rochester. Roussell knows that it is going to be a battle for the conference crown with three games left to go.

“The tough part about it is that we have three very strong programs that we have to go against,” Roussell said. “We are at least in the position right now that if we take care of our business, we will be in the position to hopefully play for something of substance at the end of the year. I think that is always our goal going into the season.”

Up next for Chicago is NYU (14–8, 3–8), who boasts the reigning UAA player of the year, Jessica McEntee. The 5-foot-11 third-year forward leads the conference in scoring and rebounding and Roussell thinks that she will be tough to contain.

“I think NYU has the best player in the league and probably the best player that I have seen at this level. She is a very tough cover. She has scored a lot of points in every game that we have played against her,” Roussell said. “They have a lot of very talented players. They are just a little bit young. They have lost some really close games, but they are fully capable of beating anybody in this league. We need to make sure that we are prepared for them on Friday night.”