Physical and determined, but not quite consistent enough to pull it out: men’s basketball in a nutshell, both on Saturday afternoon and throughout the season.
The Maroons (13–12, 7–7) ended their season in a fitting manner with a close 64–60 loss to Wash U (23–2, 13–1) at the Ratner Athletics Center. Chicago came into the game looking to upset the top-ranked Bears, but could not overcome Wash U’s strength on this Senior Day.
“[Wash U] is a rival, a team we’ve had a healthy competition with the last couple of years,” head coach Mike McGrath said. “We would have loved to have seen our seniors go out with a win there—that would have been huge.”
Despite the loss, the Maroons displayed a gritty effort both defensively and on the glass.
“Our guys played extremely hard,” assistant coach Drew Adams said. “We executed our defensive game plan very well. Wash U is an extremely talented offensive team, and I thought we did a great job of limiting easy looks for them.”
Bears’ guard Aaron Thompson, who averaged over 17 points and five rebounds per game during the year, led the Wash U attack with 23 points and seven boards, yet the Maroons refused to give up and stop competing.
“There were a couple of stretches where we could have let the game slip away, but we didn’t let that happen,” McGrath said.
Chicago was paced by fourth-year guard Jake Pancratz, who poured in 12 of his 18 points from the three-point line, as he ended his career total one point shy of 1000 over four seasons. Pancratz formed the core of the senior class that really set the tone for the squad throughout the year.
“Our senior class was outstanding all year, through the good and the bad,” Adams said. “There was not a game this year where that class didn’t leave everything they had on the floor. I thought they set an outstanding example for our underclassmen.”
“They were a group of guys we really leaned on and that I really leaned on as a coach,” McGrath added. “They handled that pressure and really kept battling.”
While the seniors showed their grit throughout the year, Chicago’s season will still have a bittersweet taste to it as the Maroons failed to reach all of their team goals.
“Our goal is to win the UAA every year, so we are disappointed we could not accomplish that goal,” Adams said. “I do think we took some great strides at achieving that goal in the near future.”
It was the Maroons’ mental approach to the game that ultimately prevented them from getting over the top more consistently this season.
“The biggest challenge was trying to get the group to play with confidence and feel comfortable, but at the same time, playing with a sense of urgency,” McGrath said. “Half the game is playing with confidence and being sure of yourself, and the other half is playing with a frenetic energy and enthusiasm. Over time, I feel we made great strides in balancing composure and enthusiasm.”
On the whole, Chicago made significant progress from the previous season, using their cohession to battle a strong non-conference and UAA schedule this year.
“I feel really good about the strides we made from last season. Some of that is our record and the teams we played. We had a very high level of competition this year, but I feel a lot of that was that we had a great group this year,” McGrath said. “These guys were a true team this year—a bunch of guys who enjoyed being around one another and worked hard together.”
The Maroons look forward to continuing their upward momentum to the top of the UAA standings next season.
“I think we have as talented of a group coming back as any team in the UAA next year,” Adams said. “We have big expectations for next year, and we believe that we have the talent necessary to uphold those expectations.”
Chicago will look to build upon their experience while also incorporating a talented crop of new players to accomplish their goals as they move forward into the 2010–11 season.
“If we continue to make the strides from last year to this year this off-season, with the talent we have returning and the talent I expect to have coming in from recruiting, I think we could have a lot of fun next year,” McGrath said.