There’s good news and there’s bad news for women’s basketball as it continues into conference play. The bad news: The UAA looks to be much tighter and much tougher for the 25th-ranked South Siders. The good news: An 0–1 start means very little in a league where the team hierarchy is far from decided.
“There’s really not a bad team in the league. We’ve said that for many years, but this year it rings most true,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “I don’t think anybody in the conference will be surprised if teams at the bottom of the standings beat teams at the top of the standings.”
If the UAA has upped its game from last year, then 2008 is setting up to be a real brawl. After climbing the rankings to number one in the Coaches’ Poll with a 16–0 start, Chicago’s season came to a screeching halt when it faced old league foes. The squad dropped its first four conference games, falling from first to number 25 by the end of the season. Currently on the edge of the Coaches’ Poll top 25 and unranked by the more accurate d3hoops.com, the Maroons have hardly been biting their nails over this season’s rankings.
“After having success last year, the rankings don’t mean anything,” Roussell said. “We know when we play well, we can be really good.”
As the Maroons launch into the most important segment of their schedule full bore with a two-game homestand, they’re looking to improve on 2007’s 7–7 UAA finish by controlling the backboards.
“Any time we can count on that, we can focus on any other advantages that we might have in the game,” Roussell explained. “We’re so deep, if we get everyone playing well, playing with each other, we should be in a good position.”
An advantage on the boards will be the basis for success, but the Maroons will need to come up with more to put up a W. Ranked second in the nation in rebounding prior to Saturday’s conference opener at Wash U (9–3, 1–0 UAA), Chicago was outrebounded by the Bears by a narrow 43–42 margin but suffered a 67–56 loss to their hosts.
The Maroons got a lift from second-year center Molly Hackney, who led the team in scoring with 14, and from fourth-year guard Nofi Mojidi, who notched the second double-double of her career with 11 points and 11 rebounds, but Chicago let an early 11-point lead slip away as the Bears took control with a 32–31 lead at the half.
“[The players are] not thrilled with how we played in St. Louis as a team, and I’m sure individually,” Roussell said, adding, “our bigs have something to prove [heading into this weekend].”
With 13 more conference matchups in front of them, the Maroons are easily putting the setback in St. Louis behind them.
“It obviously would have been nice to get a win, but it was one game where the visiting team very rarely wins,” Roussell said. “We lost a chance to get one on the road, but hopefully we can get one back later on.”
Looking to get on the winning track in the UAA, the Maroons will need to take care of business against Case (8–4, 1–0) tonight. The Spartans have been reformed from last season, presenting Chicago with tough matchups throughout the lineup.
A 1–13 conference record marked Case as a basement team last season, but the Maroons can expect a much different showing from the team this year. The same squad that lost its final six contest is now outscoring opponents by 5.5 points and outrebounding by a margin of 5.8.
“Case has a three-headed monster that I don’t know that any team in the league can match,” Roussell said.
That “monster” comes in the form of fourth-year forward center Ashley Horton, second-year guard Ashleigh Tondo, and fourth-year guard Mary Herendeen. Horton is averaging a double-double this season with 13.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game, while Tondo is pouring in 17.6 points a night to go along with 5.6 rebounds.
That trio paced the Spartans to a 76–72 grazing of Emory (7–5, 0–1), who come to Ratner Sunday. Like Case, the Eagles are also a much-improved team from last year, when they went 4–10 in the UAA.
Emory has its own scoring machine, too, with third-year forward Lora Turner currently leading the squad in scoring and wiping the glass with 16.5 points and 7.8 rebuonds per game.
While Chicago will have its hands full dealing with these two teams, there’s no better time to get on course against the UAA than this weekend with the third-annual Beach Night Friday bringing in an extra-excited home crowd.