The women's basketball team's primary goal for the final two weeks of the season was to play the spoiler against the three top-ranked teams remaining on the schedule. The Maroons succeeded in a big way Sunday, as they stunned then 22nd- ranked Brandeis 50-44 at home.
"Brandeis was looking beyond our team. They didn't prepare for us the way they should have, and we ended up surprising them," said head coach Jennifer Kroll.
The game was a wild, up-and-down affair the whole way through, with 10 lead changes and three ties. Chicago led 23-22 at halftime, but Brandeis came back to take the lead 35-34 with less than 10 minutes remaining. Chicago then went on an 8-1 run, only to have the Judges come back and tie the game at 42 with less than four minutes to go.
With 3:05 remaining, second-year forward Susie Gutowski stepped to the line and hit two free throws to put Chicago up for good.
Another pair of free throws by second-year guard Janae Winner and a late basket by fourth-year forward Angel Korer sealed the victory for the Maroons, who improved to 10-14 overall and 5-8 in the University Athletic Association.
Points were not easy to come by for either team. The deciding factor in the game proved to be defense, as the Maroons held Brandeis to a shooting percentage of 25.4%, by far the Judges' lowest of the season.
"Our defensive play was definitely the biggest difference between our last game against Brandeis and this one," Kroll said. "[Brandeis center] Danielle Fitzpatrick had a field day last time around. On Sunday, we double-teamed her early and she did not handle it well. She scored 11 points, but she averages 19 per game."
The result was a major upset that put an end to the Judges' hopes of making the NCAA tournament. The final score was particularly surprising, given Brandeis's statistical domination of the Maroons in an 82-63 loss in Waltham on January 23.
Unfortunately, the Maroons were not able to provide a stumbling block for New York University on Friday. The Violets scored first and never looked back, roundly defeating the home team 91-78.
The Violets, now ranked eighth in the nation, clinched a share of the UAA's conference title and the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament on Sunday with a victory over the archrival Bears.
"Cocky as that team can be, they didn't look past us as Brandeis did. They were ready for us," Kroll said.
In the first meeting between the two teams, the Maroons lost a close game late, 66-59, and were hoping to reverse the result in Ratner. However, the Violets kept the game well in hand, forcing the Maroons to play at NYU's pace and preventing Chicago from getting to the foul line, a key part of the Maroons' strategy.
"I think [the] loss ended up really motivating us, and we took it out on Brandeis," first-year guard Korry Schwanz added.
Bright spots from the NYU game included the play of second-year guard Taryn Holgash, who scored 15 points off of the bench.
"If you look at the good teams in our conference, they all get great play out of their backups. We'd love to get more contributions off of the bench like Taryn gave us on Friday," said Kroll, adding that Holgash "is capable of doing that any time she wants to. She's primarily out there for her defense, but she and [third-year guard] Daniela Lieber are also some of the best three-point shooters we have."
"We're a very deep team, obviously," Gutowski added. "It was Taryn that game, it'll be [second-year forward] Jenn Kaiser next game, [first-year forward] Megan Prochaska the next. You saw it against Brandeis, too. Every person on our team contributed in that win in some way."
Chicago will close out the season at home against Washington University tomorrow. The Bears are currently ranked 11th in the country and are in contention for an NCAA bid.