Facing the number-one ranked team in the country is always a challenge. And to make matters worse, few top-ranked teams seem, well, as number-one as the seemingly indomitable Washington University women's basketball team. With a NCAA Championship pedigree that even puts teams like Duke to shame, Wash U came into last Saturday's matchup posting a perfect 24-0 record. The Washington University Bears have won four Division III championships in a row, and the team seems primed to capture their fifth consecutive title.
Heck, they'd probably make John Wooden proud.
In fact, Chicago unfortunately faced a surging Wash U side the last time these teams met, with Washington University winning the game by 41 points. This time around, in their season finale at Henry Crown the Maroons managed to play better, but the Bears still won the game, 70-50. The loss drops the Maroons to 9-15 for the season (5-9 in the UAA), while Wash U kept their record perfect in the UAA.
Washington University started out the game well against Chicago. Third-year guard Laura Crowley hit a three-pointer just minutes into the game, and Wash U pounded the ball inside, making numerous layups and converting free throws. The Maroons, however, didn't just fade at the start of the game. Chicago stayed with their opponents quite well, with third-year guard Laura Hebel once again finding her shot from behind the three-point arc, fourth-year forward Katie Miller finding points inside the paint, and second-year forward Angel Korer doing a little of everything to keep the Maroons in the game. Also, third-year guard Jamie Bleck and second-year guard Paula Lepka kept the ball moving and made shots when needed. Accordingly, at the end of the first half, the score remained close, with Wash U holding a 35-30 lead.
Although all the Maroons played extremely hard, Wash U benefited from its deep, talented, and energetic bench. Boasting a squad that runs nearly 25 players deep, Wash U never runs out of energy or out of scoring options. The Maroons, on the other hand, only have 10 players on the squad, and their lack of depth once again showed against the Bears. In the second half, Wash U simply pulled away from Chicago. Wash U made layup after layup, hit big three-pointers when needed, and threw their arsenal of players at the overmatched Chicago side. The Maroons stayed competitive, but they simply ran out of gas by the end of the game. Meanwhile, the Wash U juggernaut just kept on rolling. Accordingly, Washington University 70-50, and the Maroons swallowed a difficult loss in their season finale.
Despite the disappointing result, several Maroons played extremely well. Miller and Hebel both had 14 points for Chicago, and Hebel hit four of seven three-point attempts. Miller also had seven rebounds. Korer once again found her shooting touch, scoring 11 points in 24 minutes of play.
Although Chicago hopes to rebound next year, the close of their season brought in an abundance of awards and praise. Korer was voted to the All-UAA second team, and Hebel and Lepka earned All-UAA honorable mention picks. Hebel's hot shooting also paid off. For the 2001-2002 season, Hebel made a school-record 52 three-pointers. She broke the previous record of 50 three-pointers set by Vicki Wittman in 1993-1994.
Along with individual honors, the Maroons must once again bid farewell to their senior class. The Maroons are rather young this year, but they will lose the powerful inside presence of Miller. Miller's looming 6-foot 1-inch frame and her commanding attitude on the court resulted in opportunities for the rest of the team. Of course, Miller created plenty of scoring chances for herself as well. Miller was fourth in scoring this season, averaging 9.8 points a game, and she grabbed a consistent 5.5 rebounds a game. Miller also was second on the team in blocks.
Surely, the 2001-2002 season didn't go just as the Maroons had planned. Tough losses to Wash U, along with perhaps even more difficult losses to rivals like NYU and Brandeis resulted in some frustrating moments for the squad. Nevertheless, with a solid core of talent and leadership this year, the promise of a strong incoming class, and a continuing tradition of hard work, the Maroons will look to improve on this season next year.