March 7, 2003

Chicago's improbable run ends at Wash. U.

Saturday's 85-50 loss at Washington University (St. Louis) makes the University of Chicago's men's team the first team to fall in the heat of March madness. While they left hoping to bring home a piece of the UAA title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament Saturday, the Maroons could not topple the number two team in the country. Finishing the season at 15-10 and 11-3 in the conference, the Maroons instead settled for third in the league and the comfort of knowing they at least had a chance to be, as head coach Mike McGrath put it long ago, "in the race."

Hopes had diminished after the Maroons ended their 10-game winning streak on February 19 with a loss to the University of Rochester. But news that Rochester had upset the top-ranked Washington Bears gave the Maroons a chance to bring their mid-season revival to fruition. If they could somehow manage to beat Washington University, they would force a coin toss to determine the recipient of the UAA's automatic bid.

With this scenario in mind, the Maroons traveled down to St. Louis. The 23-1 Bears had already clinched a playoff spot and a first-round bye, so the possibility remained that the Maroons might be able to take advantage of the Bears' complacency and surprise everyone with a victory. It seemed that this dream might be coming true as second-year Brian Cuttica's three-pointer and two jumpers by third-year Scott Fisher put the Maroons ahead with a 7-1 lead. But the Bears started taking the ball inside and quickly erased the Maroons early lead.

As Chicago started to fall behind, they looked to their big gun for support. With fourth-year captain Derek Reich playing in what would be his final game in a Maroon jersey, they hoped for a legendary curtain call. Instead, Reich came out looking shaky and nervous. Reich, who was this week named the UAA basketball player of the year for the fourth straight year, began the game by missing his first five shots and committing two turnovers. Despite averaging 25.4 points a game this year for the Maroons, Reich did not score until 9:26 into the game. He finished with 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting and an awful 5-for-13 from the foul line, and his 10 rebounds came at the price of five turnovers.

Washington University simply showed that they were in a different class in the second half. The team as a whole shot 51.5 percent from the floor and tied for the most points scored by any Chicago opponent this year. Chicago seemed outmatched at every position. Bears center Jarriot Rook and forward Chris Jeffries combined for 39 points in just 30 minutes, more than Chicago's entire starting five put together. Washington guard Matt Tabash had 11 assists and five steals, both more than any single Chicago player had in any game all year. It almost seemed if Washington wanted to make it clear why Chicago did not belong in postseason play.

The Maroons now say goodbye to another season, to Reich, and to the Henry Crown Field House. Reich will graduate this year and miss the opportunity to have a game in the new Ratner Center that will open next year, though he will undoubtedly be inducted into the Hall of Fame it will house. Reich is expected to go abroad next year to play professional basketball. The team will have to use the off-season to come together and to attempt to fill his shoes, having leaned on him for the past four years. For the immediate future, however, they will simply recover from the season and focus on catching up on schoolwork.