As Kobe Bryant was taking steps towards NBA greatness, fourth-year Derek Reich closed out his own historic career at the University of Chicago in apt fashion this weekend as the Maroon men beat Case Western Reserve University 84-69 and Emory University 60-56 to extend their winning streak to 10. Reich broke the school's single season scoring record, which he has set each of his four years here, by scoring 57 points in the two games. He now has accumulated 581 points on the season and 2,299 in his Chicago career.
Reich was honored at halftime of Sunday's game against Emory, which was Reich's last regular-season home game. As he and his parents walked out to half-court, the announcer listed the records Reich holds at the University of Chicago: career points leader, top four season point totals, all-time rebound leader, and highest career scoring average, to name a few. In addition, Reich was named the UAA's Athlete of the Week in basketball for the sixth time this season and the 21st time in his career. He has three league MVP trophies under his belt and seems assured of getting his fourth this year. The beginning of this season marked his most impressive accolade so far when he was named NCAA Division III's Preseason Player of the Year.
The weekend was more than a tribute to Reich, though. Chicago (14-8, 10-1 in the UAA) presented one more piece of evidence in their case to make the NCAA tournament. The two league wins kept them in second place in the UAA, behind national first-ranked Washington University (22-0, 11-0) but ahead of Rochester University (19-3, 9-2). Both the Bears and the Yellow Jackets won their own two UAA games this weekend. Chicago also extended its winning streak to 10 straight games, with six of those wins coming at home.
Case Western (5-16, 2-8) once again could not pose a threat at Henry Crown Field House on Friday. The Maroons started the game slow, and the two teams stayed even for the first 10 minutes of play. By halftime, however, Chicago had established a 10-point lead, which quickly expanded to 15 in the opening minutes of the second half. Case could not pull any closer in the last 17:46 of play. Reich had a game-high 28 points, and third-year Scott Fisher added 18 more on 6-for-9 shooting and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. Second-year Brian Cuttica contributed six assists and classmate Justin Waldie, whose playing time has increased considerably over the Maroons' last few games, came off the bench to finish with seven points and four assists.
The Maroons would need all of Reich's game-high 29 points on Sunday afternoon as they eked out a victory against Emory University. The Eagles (10-11, 3-8) have been a sound team all year and narrowly missed beating Rochester last week. Emory came out playing solid basketball, and once again a sluggish Maroon start suggested that Chicago might have its hands full.
It was fitting on this day that the Maroons needed Reich to step up once more. "D put us on his back," third-year Mike Lowny said afterward. "He carried us." While the rest of the team struggled in the first half, Reich scored 22 of the Maroons' first-half points. He also pulled down eight of his 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes, and after scoring off a inbounds pass from second-year Bryan Fitzgerald with three seconds left in the half, Reich led his team to the locker room with a 37-28 lead.
The Maroons maintained their edge for the first five minutes of the second half only to see it dissipate when the Eagles went on a 17-8 run over the next 10. The score then stood at 57-56, and it looked like the Maroons might not carry their six-game home winning streak into next season. Emory, however, went cold at the most inopportune time, and they could not add a single point to their total over the last five minutes of play. Meanwhile, Cuttica and Lowny combined for three free throws to give the Maroons a bit of breathing room, and Chicago walked away victorious.
The weekend resolved nothing in terms of the Maroons' chances of making the playoffs. Despite their winning streak, their four early-season regional losses continue to haunt them. With three games left to play--this Friday at Rochester, then Sunday at Carnegie Mellon University, and finally March 1 in St. Louis--there seem to be a few scenarios that might develop. The Maroons could sneak into the playoffs on one of the seven second-place team bids if they win all of their games (it's very unlikely that Washington University will lose two of their next three, so first-place seems improbable). Alternatively, even if Chicago loses at Wash U., they might still make the playoffs if both they and the Bears beat Rochester. In either scenario, the biggest game of the season for Chicago will be this Friday in Rochester and will likely make or break the fairytale comeback story of their season.