SPORTS

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January 16, 2009

Chicago gets two chances at first win

If men’s basketball is going to turn things around, its best bet for success could be this weekend as the Maroons play host to the bottom of the UAA barrel.

With Emory (5–7, 0–1 UAA) and Case (4–8, 0–1) coming to town this weekend, Chicago (0–12, 0–1) has a chance to use home-court advantage to knock off two squads who have also seen their fair share of struggles this season. The three teams together own the UAA’s three worst win-loss records, the worst defenses, and the worst field goal shooting.

Given the opportunity to pick up two valuable wins in the unforgiving UAA, Chicago is focusing on the weekend rather than its past difficulties or the toughness of its remaining conference schedule.

“It’s cliché, but the only game that’s important is the next one,” said head coach Mike McGrath, “and when you’re having a season like we’ve had so far, we try to keep our eyes set on what you have ahead of you. Tomorrow we need a win, and we’re focused on that.”

Despite their poor records, the Spartans and Eagles can both put points on the board. Each squad averages roughly 74 points a game, good for second- and third-best in the conference. Case is led on offense by second-year guard Reid Anderson, whose 18.2 points per game stands at second best in the UAA. In contrast, Chicago’s scoring troubles have the Maroons ranked last in conference offense at 63.7 points a game.

Heading into the contests, the South Siders will have to rely on defense, where Emory and Case struggle compared to the Maroons. The Eagles and Spartans have allowed 65.3 and 61.9 points a game in their appearances, while Chicago has held its opponents to 55.6 points. Taking a defensive focus in practice, McGrath noted that defending in transition and protecting the lane are two skills his squad has been honing in order to prepare for this weekend’s high-scoring visitors.

“We still are really focused on playing better defense,” fourth-year guard Matt Corning said. “I’d say that defense is the key to what we’ve been working on lately. We need to play effective defense, that’s been the key to when we have played well.”

Looking to create the same mismatches that gave the Maroons a strong start against Wash U (9–3, 1–0) Saturday, McGrath will most likely be playing a smaller lineup than usual, with first-year guard Michael Sustarsic starting for fourth-year center Tom Watson.

Chicago will have to shape up its end game if it hopes to get its first W’s on the year. Close losses have plagued the South Siders all season, and they’ve had the lead with under five minutes to play in three of their last five appearances, only to come up short each time. Yet despite the recent run of demoralizing losses, McGrath says his squad is revved up after noticing improvements in last weekend’s loss to third-ranked Wash U.

“The team is excited to compete,” McGrath said. “I think we felt we did some things better last weekend, and we’re excited to try and build on that. I thought last week we executed better than we have all year, and if we can do that and play hard and play together, I think that’s what I’m always looking for.”

The weekend action kicks off at 8 p.m. tomorrow with Emory, before closing with a noon match-up with Case on Sunday. The games are Chicago’s last appearances before a four-game road swing.