SPORTS

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February 29, 2008

Women's hoops chases crown

[img id="80374" align="alignleft"] Women’s basketball heads into the weekend looking to bump Wash U’s name from the UAA mantle and top spot that it has called home for the past 10 years.

Chicago hosts the Bears Saturday in an outright title game that will decide whether the crown returns to Wash U (18–6, 10–3), 18-time champions in the UAA’s 21-year history, or goes to the Maroons (19–5, 10–3), who are looking to claim their first title since the 1988–1989 season.

Head coach Aaron Roussell sees a Maroons team playing some of its best basketball of the season just in time for the pivotal matchup.

“Collectively, as a team, we’re playing well together,” Roussell said. “We’ve turned into a really, really good defensive team. We make it tough for other teams to get what they’re used to getting.”

The conference picture hasn’t always been so pretty for Chicago. Four years ago, the squad found itself stumbling into the season finale with a 5–8 conference record before suffering a 73–47 trouncing at the hands of Wash U. The Bears walked away with another title, but Chicago soon found itself destined for a complete reversal of fortune.

In the 2004–2005 season, the South Siders added head coach Aaron Roussell, and over the next three seasons, the Maroons went 52–24. Last season, Chicago won their first 16 games before losing seven of their last nine conference matchups.

After a season in which fans derided Chicago’s fall from grace at the end of the year, the Maroons have shown a higher level of consistency and now find themselves on the verge of winning the first outright conference title in school history.

“A big part of it is a year of experience,” Roussell said. “We were playing with a lot of young kids last year. This year, they’re a little more comfortable; they know what they have to expect with the grind of conference play.”

This weekend the older, wiser Maroons will face their most challenging and important test of the season as they play a Bears squad that features four players averaging between 9 and 10 points per game.

“They’re very versatile, that makes them extremely hard to defend. You can’t help of one player to stop another,” Roussell said. “They have so many people who can do great things.”

In its last meeting on January 12 in St. Louis, Chicago was unable to hang onto an early lead as Wash U defeated the Maroons 67–56.

“It’s a tough place to win down there,” Roussell said. “But we definitely came close. We showed we can play with them on their home floor.”

The Bears capitalized on season highs in three-point shooting, free throws, and rebounds for Chicago’s opponents. Currently sitting atop the UAA with a rebounding margin of 11.9 rpg, the Maroons found themselves out-rebounded 43–42.

“[Rebounding] is something we normally rely on,” Roussell said. “Our identity is that we get on you. We make it tough to score and we get the boards, and we didn’t do either of those things.”

Wash U also held Chicago to 31-percent field goal accuracy, a conference-season low for the Maroons. However, the South Siders head into the game sporting a six-game winning streak and a nine-game streak at home. Meanwhile, Wash U is just 6–6 on the road, compared to 12–0 at home.

In what could be their final game in a Chicago uniform, the squad’s seniors will be honored prior to tip-off. Fourth-years Nofi Mojidi, Nicaya Rapier, and Lori Tanaka all joined the team Roussell’s first year as head coaching.

“These kids mean the world to me,” Roussell said. “[A championship would be] a nice reward for all the hard work the kids put in. It’s a testament to them. I’m just happy they get to experience this week…. I think it’ll be a fun and exciting atmosphere.”