January 25, 2008

Women’s hoops fends off UAA

With their backs against the wall after a tough loss to Wash U, the women’s basketball team entered Friday’s match-up needing a victory. The weekend would be a test of whether the Maroons could respond to adversity and manage to pull out the ugly wins.

Sweeping both UAA games this weekend, Chicago proved that it would be a major force in the league. The Maroons (11–3, 2–1 UAA) opened the homestand with a 67–59 edging of Case (8–6,1–2) Friday and followed up by stealing a 54–52 victory against Emory (7–7, 0–3) Sunday.

The opening minutes of Friday’s game against Case featured a recurring theme for the Maroons: domination in the paint. Taking advantage of their size and aggression, Chicago was able to impose its will over Case’s weak defense on the inside. For all their domination offensively, the South Siders shaky interior defense kept the Spartans in the game.

Crashing the boards, the Spartans grabbed seven offensive rebounds, giving them numerous chances for second-chance points and allowing them to play toe-to-toe with the Maroons. The home team shot a dismal 20 percent from the free-throw line, keeping the score too close for comfort, but the Maroons still led 28–24 at the half.

Coming out of the locker room, Chicago clung to a slim lead, trying its best to hold off the surging Spartans. With 10:04 left in the game, the teams were knotted up at 47, but the South Siders’ defense tightened up and their offense heated up over the next six minutes as they started pulling away from their visitors.

A 15–4 run in the next 6:29 put Chicago on top for good. The leading scorer with 17 points, second-year forward Molly Hackney sealed the game with a free throw to put the Maroons up by six at 65–59 with 1:42 to go. When final buzzer sounded, the Maroons snatched their first UAA win by a score of 67–59.

“The win against Case just confirmed that we are a talented team who can beat any opponent when we play well together,” fourth-year guard Nofi Mojidi said.

Building on Friday’s success, the squad set its sights on a victory against the Eagles Sunday.

Unlike in the previous game, however, the Maroons got off to a sloppy start. A half mired in turnovers, missed layups, and missed opportunities allowed Emory to send its hosts reeling shortly after tipoff.

Despite the slow start, Chicago was able to refocus and make the necessary adjustments against the Eagles’ attempt to slow the game down.

“There was no point during that game where we had a negative attitude or thought we were going to lose the game,” third-year guard Alex Leach said.

Although the Maroons gave away 12 turnovers before intermission, they were able to secure a two-point lead of 28–26 at the break.

Stumbling back on the court, the Maroons missed four layups and turned the ball over six times in the first eight minutes of the half. Second-year guard Leshonda Lillard gave the backcourt more than they could handle in the middle of the second half, slicing into the paint area almost at will and grabbing two steals. Her success was short-lived as the Maroons worked to start shutting down the guard.

Down 47–39 with 7:56 left in the contest, the game was slipping away when head coach Aaron Roussell called a timeout to prep his team and chase down the win by switching to a man-to-man defense.

“We felt that would force them to go away from the ball screens that were giving us some trouble,” Roussell said. “We are always best in our man defense and down the stretch that is what kept us in the game and eventually won it for us.”

The pep talk worked, as the Maroons surged with a 15–5 run to hold off the Eagles for the victory, and shutting down the Emory offense played a large role in their success in the final seconds.

One of the key stops of the game came after Leach put the team ahead with 28 seconds left. After a missed shot, the ball came loose and the Maroons hustled toward the ball. Leach dived along with another teammate, attempting to cause a jump-ball. Coming out of the skirmish, Chicago had possession and Leach had a battle scar on the back of her ear.

“We had to get the ball, so when I saw the loose ball, I dove for it, and fortunately we got the ball back and sealed the win,” Leach said.

Going further into UAA matchups with Brandeis (10–4, 1–2) slated today, Sunday’s showdown with the Eagles will serve as a reminder that the Maroons can still fight off opponents even when they lack their A-game.

“I don’t know that we played particularly well in either game, but at least in the Emory game I thought we competed and played very hard,” Roussell said. “There are going to be many more games like these in league play and we have shown that we can win these types of games. We kept scratching and kept clawing and, on Sunday, at least that was enough to escape with the win.”