While the entire University descended into a new ice age over the weekend, the Chicago women's basketball team split two games on the road, edging the Emory Eagles on Friday, 53-48, and dropping a Sunday afternoon contest to the Spartans of Case Western Reserve 85-59. The victory over Emory gave Chicago (6-7) its first University Athletic Association (UAA) win of the season.
Coaches often criticize their teams for not staying focused and for failing to execute the game plan. While the Maroons did sneak away from their weekend match-ups with an important conference win. Nonetheless, they struggled in both of these areas of the game.
In recent years, Emory has been exposed as one of the lesser teams in the UAA and should not have presented the kind of challenge to Chicago that it did. In the first 12 minutes the Eagles matched the Maroons shot for shot, capitalizing on some costly turnovers and even snatching the lead on four occasions.
With the game tied at 18, first-year forward Janae Winner hit one of her four three-pointers of the night to take back the lead once again. Then Emory went cold, scoring only six more points the rest of the half. With the halftime score at 33-24, Chicago could not remain focused through the break and failed to put the Eagles away.
Instead, Chicago allowed Emory to creep back and eventually tie the game by not sinking a single shot for the first five minutes of the half. Fortunately, superior talent finally lifted the Maroons. With 11 minutes remaining, third-year guard Paula Lepka scored six straight points, keeping the Eagles at bay until the Maroons' shooting returned to form. Winner then hit a clutch three-pointer and two free throws in the final minutes, easing the team's fear of a deflating upset.
While she was happy with the win, head coach Jennifer Kroll was also critical of her team's near-collapse. "[The game] was a little frustrating. We played well enough to win, and any win on the road in the UAA is one to be celebrated, but we had them by 10 a couple of times and couldn't put them away. That is a key point if we are going to separate ourselves from anyone in the UAA."
At the same time, Kroll was also very impressed with the play of Winner, who had a game high 14 points. "Janae Winner has been a consistent presence for us, both offensively and defensively. She is aggressive on the offensive end, leading us in three-point field goal percentage, as well as guarding the best perimeter player of our opponents. That is a heavy burden as a first-year. She is measuring up."
Unfortunately for Chicago, Case Western is playing at a higher level than Emory. The Spartans, who last season advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, are one of those teams that only loses to opponents who have prepared well and can disrupt the Spartan style of play.
According to Kroll, Case thrives on its superior outside shooting game and is quite successful at moving the ball around the perimeter and creating open shots. The Maroons were indeed able to disrupt the Case game plan early on and even built up a seven-point lead. In the end, however, Chicago could not maintain continuous pressure on the Spartan shooters and were unable to consistently contest shots. By halftime, the Maroons were already trailing by 10 and couldn't climb back into the game.
Chicago now begins a five-game home stand tonight at 6:00 p.m. against Carnegie Melon and will finish out the weekend with a Sunday afternoon game against vaunted Rochester.