January 7, 2016

Maroons set to begin conference play on an eight-game winning streak

Courtesy of University of Chicago Athletics

As the Chicago weather seemingly fills one’s veins with ice, the Maroon men’s basketball team is on fire. The team steamrolled through December, winning all four of its games. Add in an 86–65 victory over Illinois Tech last Saturday and the team has won eight games in a row.

The Maroons kicked off the last month of 2015 with a decisive 77–52 win over Wheaton on December 2. The squad was lead by third-year forward Waller Perez, who put up 20 points, 80% of which came from the field. Perez, who has averaged almost 12 points per game this season, attributed his scoring success to his attitude at the other end of the court.

“I think that I put a lot of emphasis [on defense], and that actually gets me going offensively,” said Perez, who has been contributing nearly five rebounds per game as well. “I feel like my teammates need me to be aggressive and I cannot let them down.”

However, Perez also emphasized that he felt the need to improve his play in the games to come. “I still need to continue to play better and harder. I can still do a lot more to help the team. So the sense of urgency of not letting my teammates down and energy I try to bring defensively has helped me early on this season.”

Later in the week, the Maroons used a strong start to fend off Kalamazoo with the score of 75–63 in front of a home crowd. The victory was in large part due to the double-double by fourth-year forward Alex Voss, who racked up 18 points to go along with 12 boards.

Following finals week, Chicago reeled off another pair of victories, one against Illinois Wesleyan and the other against Albion. The team handled Wesleyan fairly easily with their 74–57 win, thanks in part to a hot night from Voss beyond the arc. The fourth-year knocked down four threes on his way to an 18-point night. “Three pointers have definitely been a part of our success,” said Perez.

However, the Maroons found themselves facing a challenge when they rolled into Michigan later that week to face the Britons. Albion put up a tough fight, keeping the game close until its dying moments. A tiebreaking three-pointer by fourth-year guard Jordan Smith in the final minute helped the team secure a nail biter, 69–65.

While the team managed to enjoy a brief break during the holidays, they were right back at it last weekend with a game against the IL Institute of Technology on January 2. Coming out of a two-week hiatus, the team had to combat its sluggishness and get back into the swing of things.  “I think there was [some rust],” said Perez. “We did a pretty good job of shaking it off although there were moments in the game where it was noticeable.”

However, even a rusty Maroon squad managed to handle Illinois Tech with ease, winning the game 85–65, propelling them into second in the UAA with a record of 9–2. The team shot 50% from the field and received strong performances from Voss, Perez, and second-year forward Colin Barthel. Their winning streak has also helped the team shoot up the national rankings.  Chicago is now ranked 16th in the country.

Perez attributed the run of success to the way their group works together. “I think that our team has been this successful so far due to our chemistry. We seem to trust one another on the court. Pressuring teams defensively and also rebounding have been a huge part to our success so far.”

However, the Maroons’ teamwork and ranking will be put to the test this weekend in its game against WashU.  The Bears are coming off a loss to Wittenberg last week, but they still boast an impressive 8–3 record and sit right behind Chicago in the conference standings. The game should serve as an important litmus test for the South Siders as they open conference play.

The Maroons will compete against conference rival Washington University in St. Louis on Saturday, January 9. Tip off is scheduled for 3 p.m.

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