March 3, 2014

Comeback falls short against No. 5 Wash U

Saturday’s game was prefaced by a Senior Day ceremony recognizing the contributions of fourth-years Maggie Ely, Julie Muguira, Kate Casaday, and Christiane Murray to Chicago’s squad (15–10, 9–5 UAA) throughout their careers. But No. 5 Wash U (23–2, 13–1) came into town planning to spoil the party. Although each of the teams came into Saturday’s contest averaging more than 70 points per game, the game turned into a defensive showdown testing the physical mettle of both teams.

Chicago’s offense got off to a sputtering start, as a combination of subpar shooting and Wash U’s defensive efforts led to a four-minute drought, allowing Wash U to build a 30–14 lead. However, the South Siders arguably played their best defense all season against the Bears, as they fought tooth and nail for every rebound and limited the Bears’ top-scoring guard, third-year Melissa Gilkey, to only one first-half point. Chicago entered halftime trailing 35–22, but its stout defense laid the groundwork for an audacious second-half comeback.

The Maroons shot a dismal 2–12 (16 percent) from three-point range in the first half, but the game turned on its head when they began turning defensive stops into points in transition, going on an immense 17–2 run midway through the second half to level matters at 46–46.

“We had some great defensive possessions, but we also allowed offensive rebounds that forced us to have to play defense for another 30 seconds. Possessions like that are extremely deflating, especially when you’re not hitting, and that really hurt us down the stretch,” said third-year guard Claire Devaney. She attained her fifth double-double this season with a 13 point, 14 rebound performance.

Indeed, both defenses were on top in the second half, as possession after possession was nixed, leading to a four-minute scoring drought late in the game for both teams. Although Chicago managed to challenge Wash U’s slim lead right to the death, time ran out for the South Siders as Wash U cleaned up at the free-throw line to see through a 63–57 victory.

While the team is a long shot to be selected to the NCAA DIII women’s tournament, this team has several things to be proud of in a season in which it improved its record from the previous season by eight wins and tied for second place in the UAA. Head coach Carissa Sain Knoche certainly agrees.

“This team has made unbelievable strides—in their play, in their skills, and most importantly in their togetherness. I always hate the offseason, but this one is particularly bitter because I was having so much fun coaching this team and watching them grow,” she said.

While Muguira’s college basketball career is over, the investment she and the other graduating fourth-years have made to this team will continue to pay dividends outside the court.

“Ultimately, the relationships you build with each of your teammates are what you’ll remember in the years ahead. It’s been such a fun season, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to spend it with,” Muguira said.

Thus, the women’s basketball season draws to a bittersweet close, but the zeal and anticipation for next season has surely just begun for this resilient team.