February 20, 2007

Women snatch defeat from jaws of victory but rebound for split

In its fall from grace over the second half of the season, the problem for women’s basketball has not been lack of talent, desire, or competitiveness. It’s been an issue of executing when it matters most. With multiple chances to tie in the final minute Friday, the young squad fell apart once again with critical turnovers and missed opportunities.

Resigned to playing out the string after once harboring serious NCAA dreams, the Maroons (18–6, 7–6) settled for a hard weekend split, dropping an agonizing 64–59 decision to 16th-ranked Rochester (19–5, 8–5) before rebounding for a far-from-inspiring 65–56 win over conference doormat Carnegie (8–16, 2–11). Going out with the competitive fire she has shown throughout her illustrious career, fourth-year guard Korry Schwanz carried the team on the offensive end in both games.

In each of its last four losses, Chicago has had a chance to pull out a win in the final minutes only to come up short. The Maroons went winless at Brandeis and NYU by a margin of only three points total and fell to Emory at home by six points, but Friday’s loss may have trumped them all.

Down by two with 1:10 left to play, second-year point guard Alex Leach picked a good moment to hit her first bucket of the half, drilling a trey off a kick-out from third-year guard Nofi Mojidi to put the visitors back on top at 57–56. It would be their last field goal attempt of the game.

After fourth-year guard Danielle Muller hit a jumper from the corner to put the Yellowjackets back on top, the Maroons were still only a basket away from retaking the lead. From there, though the wheels came off for Chicago. Mojidi, who struggled all game and didn’t get on the scoreboard until 5:41 remained n the contest, was whistled for traveling on the subsequent possession after tripping up in the paint.

Almost compensating for the turnover with a near-steal on the inbounds pass, Mojidi and the Maroons needed a defensive stop but couldn’t get one, as fourth-year forward Emily Lyons hit a 15-foot turnaround jumper to up the lead to three with 19 ticks left on the clock. The teams traded a pair of made free throws on the next two possessions, and with eight seconds to play, the two head coaches took turns calling timeouts to set up the game’s final play.

Receiving the inbounds pass from her own baseline, Leach headed up court along the right sideline, beating her defender up court with Schwanz trailing. The sophomore passed up a contested three with four seconds left and took it to the hole, looking to hand the ball off to Schwanz. With the Rochester defense collapsing on her, Leach lost control, double-dribbling to effectively end the game.

It was an appropriate ending to a back-and-forth contest where neither team seemed capable of holding on to the ball long enough to put the game away. The squads combined for 55 turnovers on the night—26 for Chicago and 29 for the hosts—and the final five minutes featured a five-second call and a shot-clock violation, followed immediately by an errant pass out of bounds.

With Rochester leading by small margins for most of the first period, Schwanz put her team on top going into intermission, nailing a big three pointer for a 28–26 advantage. Hitting only 27.6 percent of their shots, the Maroons were on the receiving end of 14 Yellowjackets turnovers, allowing them to stay close despite being ice-cold from the floor.

Rochester returned from the break refocused and primed to put the game away, jumping out to a 10–2 run keyed by fourth-year guard Emily Bango. They then weathered a fierce Chicago challenge to hold a 47–40 advantage with 9:41 to play. An 8–0 run—capped by Mojidi’s first points of the game on a layup—put the Maroons back in the driver’s seat with 5:41 to play, setting up the hectic events of final minutes.

Submitting her lowest scoring output of the season, Mojidi finished the night with six points, shooting 2 of 15 from the floor. Schwanz led all scorers with 15 points, while first-year forward Jill DiNucci was the only other South Sider in double digits with 13.

“Korry’s a warrior, and she’s playing like a kid who doesn’t want her career to end,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “The focus and drive of that kid in the past two weeks has been unbelievable. She doesn’t hit every shot, but you can just watch the way she plays, and the competitiveness—I’ve never had the pleasure of coaching anybody like that before and hopefully someday will again.”

Looking to salvage a sweep and assure at least a .500 record in league play, Chicago entered Sunday’s matinee in Pittsburgh with plenty at stake but came out flat for the game’s first 15 minutes. After thoroughly routing the Tartans in their first meeting of the year, the Maroons trailed for much of the first stanza, finally taking back the lead for good on a DiNucci jump shot with 4:05 left before the break.

Up by seven at halftime, the Maroons were content to protect their lead, holding off a Carnegie surge that cut the lead to three at 42–39 with 14:26 left, and cruising to the easy win down the stretch despite a bevy of missed free throws.

Schwanz led four Maroons in double figures with 17 points, followed by first-year forward Molly Hackney with 11 and Mojidi and Leach with 10 apiece. Third-year forward Nicaya Rapier submitted her second impressive rebounding total of the

weekend with 12 boards after collecting nine on Friday.

The Maroons will have one last shot at redemption Saturday when they go for the upset against 12th-ranked Wash U. After taking a 51–54 decision in the UAA opener January 6, the Maroons will look to complete a season sweep against the Bears for the first time in school history.

“Any time you can beat a top-level team, a national powerhouse twice, it says something about your kids, it says something about our program, and that’s definitely the goal,” Roussell said.