[img id="80392" align="alignleft"] After a decade of league dominance by Wash U, women’s basketball has given the UAA notice that there is a new sheriff in town.
Long the top dog in the conference, the 23rd-ranked Bears (18–7, 10–4 UAA) rode into Saturday’s title game at Ratner as the winners of 10 straight Association titles. Twenty-first-ranked Chicago (20–5, 11–3), on the other hand, split the crown in 1989 and had never won it outright.
It didn’t take long for all of that to change. The Maroons didn’t just beat Wash U, they put on a clinic, opening up a 21-point halftime lead in front of a capacity crowd before cruising down the stretch to a 76–53 victory. The win earned Chicago an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In the first round, the team will play St. Thomas (20–7) at UW–Stevens Point this Friday.
As Saturday’s action got under way, it was clear that the Maroons wouldn’t be just another bump in the Bears’ string of championships. Wash U had an early 4–2 lead until nine straight points from Chicago, including a three-pointer from second-year guard Jamie Stinson, forced the visitors to call a timeout.
The stoppage did not stem the tide of Chicago points, though. Before the 10-minute mark, second-year forward Molly Hackney had chipped in three layups and first-year guard Dana Kaplan hit a trey, putting the Maroons up 22–6 and forcing Wash U to burn two more timeouts.
Although they came into the game as one of the conference’s better shooting teams, the Bears were dismal from the field in the first half, connecting on only 6 of 24 attempts. Often Wash U didn’t even get off a shot, as poor passing and ball control saddled them with 10 first-half turnovers.
Struggling with inconsistency throughout the first half, the Bears went long stretches without scoring, and their last bucket of the period came on a layup from first-year forward Kelsey Robb with 3:11 to go. That shortened the Maroons’ lead to 13, but two jumpers from Hackney spurred an 8–0 Chicago run to close the half and put the team up 37–16.
That final spurt capped one of the Maroons’ finest halves all season. As a team, they shot almost 50 percent from the field, 4–4 from the line, served up nine assists and five steals, and committed only three turnovers.
“There was a great vibe going on Saturday afternoon,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “Our students and our fans created an incredible atmosphere that was really fun to play in, and our kids rose to the occasion and fed off the crowd a little bit. We were hitting shots, and it just happened- we definitely didn’t expect to have a score like that.”
As the game started up after the break, Wash U came out playing more like a team that had won the title 10 years running, but Chicago barely flinched. The Bears tried using full court pressure to slow down the Maroons, but the South Siders beat the press over and over, generating easy points. Playing in her final game at Ratner, fourth-year guard Nofi Mojidi had seven second-half layups as part of her game-high 25 points.
“I don’t think they’re a team that ever wants to press, and they were kind of forcing it because of what happened in the first half,” Roussell said.
Shooting much better than in the first frame, Wash U kept the pace with Chicago’s scoring and even chipped away at the lead some, getting the margin down to 16 twice in the half. The Maroons never let the Bears get any closer than that, though, and their advantage mostly hovered around 20 points.
“At halftime, we wanted to make sure we didn’t just come out and sit on a lead,” Roussell said. “It’s always dangerous when you build up a big lead and you have the other team come back, because the momentum goes to their side, and we didn’t want them to ever get the momentum.”
With about a minute left on the clock and the game in hand, Roussell subbed out Mojidi, guard Lori Tanaka, and forward Nicaya Rapier, the team’s three fourth-years. Each received a hug from the coach at the bench and a round of applause from the Chicago faithful.
“This is a great testament to our seniors and what they’ve accomplished in their time here,” Roussell said. “With their development individually and what they’ve done for the program, I don’t think you could have scripted it any better than to have it work out like this.”
Besides leading the team in scoring, Mojidi had five rebounds and two steals on the day. Hackney posted 18 points and two blocks, while second-year forward Anna Woods recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 boards. Stinson, the team’s catalyst on offense, dished out eight assists, one shy of the individual record at Ratner.
For the Bears, second-year guard Zoe Unruh led the way with 14 points and seven rebounds. The team’s star player, third-year forward Jaimie McFarlin, has been injured since December.
After beginning UAA play 4–3, Chicago finished the regular season with a seven-game winning streak. The Maroons needed every one of those wins to get their second-ever 20-win season and guaranteed playoff spot.
The Maroons’ first-round opponent, St. Thomas, received an at-large bid to the tournament. The Tommies split the regular season championship in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, but lost to Carleton in the MIAC Tournament title game.
If Chicago can knock off St. Thomas, the squad will play the winner of the St. Norbert and UW–Stevens Point game Saturday. St. Norbert (21–4) won the Midwestern Conference, and the 19th-ranked Pointers (24–4) took top honors in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
With the short time frame to prepare for St. Thomas and potentially Stevens Point or St. Norbert in the second round, Chicago will have to hurry to find its plan of attack.
“You feel unprepared right now, but our kids know that we’re always more than prepared for every game that we play,” Roussell said. “In due time we’ll be prepared, and our kids definitely will be ready to play on Friday.”