It was the best of times. It was, well, the not so best of times.
After a roller-coaster ride of a weekend, in which the Maroons (13–5, 5–2 UAA) won 80–70 at Emory (9–9, 2–5) on Friday to take a share of first place in the UAA, only to suffer a heartbreaking 54–52 loss in overtime to Rochester (15–3, 5–2 UAA) two days later, the Maroons enter the final stretch of the season in limbo.
On the one hand, the Maroons control their own destiny: Win out and they will at least share the UAA title and will receive a NCAA tournament berth. But lose one or more games, and the likelihood of an NCAA tournament berth diminishes rapidly.
This situation could have been avoided. Up by five with less than a minute-and-a-half to play in regulation, Chicago allowed five free throws to tie the game at 49–49 and then was outplayed on the defensive side of the ball in overtime.
“I think we put ourselves in a position that our backs are against the wall now,” said head coach Aaron Roussell. “I think if we win 19 games that would put us in a good spot to get into the tournament, but many things could happen to change that.”
The Maroons currently stand third in the highly competitive UAA, with the same conference record as Rochester but losing the tiebreak, one game behind league leader Wash U (16–2, 6–1), who defeated the Maroons 63–34 in early January.
This precarious position places the Maroons in a must-win situation this upcoming weekend, as they play host to Emory on Friday in a game that will also feature the Women’s Athletic Association annual charity shootout to raise funds to benefit local elementary school’s physical education programs, and then Rochester on Sunday. With two wins over the weekend, the Maroons will take either first or second in the conference, depending on how Wash U fares over the weekend. Assuming the Bears and Chicago both win out, the South Siders’ final regular season game, against Wash U at home, will effectively be the UAA title game.
“There are a lot of very good teams in this league, all of whom can beat us,” said Roussell. “So if we lose focus on who we are playing next, we won’t be in any position for those games down the road to mean anything.”
Indeed, the UAA is one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive, conference in D-III basketball this season. Over half of the teams in the UAA still have a shot of winning the conference title, and every team except for one has a record of .500 or better on the season.
To persevere through this critical stretch, Chicago will continue to emphasize the importance of playing as a team. Although the Maroons have strong players like fourth-year Molly Hackney, who leads the team in rebounding and field goal percentage, and second year Meghan Herrick, who leads the team in scoring and assists, the true strength of the team comes from their depth and experience.
“As I have stated all year, we are in many ways the textbook definition of a team,” said Rousell. “On any given night a wide variety of players could lead us in scoring, and I like it that way.”
With its team emphasis and strong play, the Maroons will continue to make a push for the UAA title, and if the team can eliminate its mistakes from the losses to Wash U and Rochester, there will be better times to come.