November 22, 2005

Women’s basketball overcomes foul trouble, tough opponents to win Midway Classic

“So far ahead” of where they were at the beginning of last season, women’s basketball made an early statement last weekend: You can contain one of us, but you can’t stop everyone.

Despite having a leading offensive weapon in foul trouble both Saturday and Sunday, the Maroons (2–0) showed off their depth and swept the Midway Classic for the first time since 2000. Chicago was never seriously threatened Saturday against St. Norbert (1–1), handling them 77–66 with their athleticism and transition game. In the title game, the team needed a pair of late free throws from third-year guard Korry Schwanz to make the difference in a 65–64 comeback victory over Whitman (1–1).

“The good thing about playing two good teams early is that you get a sense of where you’re at,” said head coach Aaron Roussell, leading this team in his second year. “We need to figure out some roles and a few things, but beating two good teams early you have to be happy.

“I still think there’s a lot of things that we’ll normally do a lot better than we did this weekend.

One of the big tactical adjustments that Roussell brought with him last year was a more open, transition-oriented offense, and it was in full force Saturday. Second-year Nofi Mojidi led the way with 21 points, 18 of those on her nine layups. Last year’s steals leader, Mojidi created a few of those opportunities with her four steals on the game, and second-year forward Nicaya Rapier also set her classmate up with long passes off steals and rebounds.

Rapier collected seven boards in significant time off the bench, again providing a physical presence under the basket. She was a boon on offense as well, scoring 13 points including five of six shooting from the stripe. It was a timely performance, as fourth-year forward Susie Gutowski only ended up playing 26 minutes and fouled out with 1:24 left, despite chipping in 18 points and six boards.

“You’ve got your usuals. Nicaya’s getting to the point now where she’s a usual,” Roussell said. “We have so many weapons that Susie can be in foul trouble Saturday—still plays well but she’s on the bench—and people come in and step up.”

The Maroons defense, a main focal point for this season, ended up leaving a few too many opportunities open and let St. Norbert climb back from a 10-point halftime deficit, but the Green Knights were never able to close the gap to less than three.

Sunday’s game against Whitworth was a different story, as the challengers from Walla Walla, Washington, were able to keep up with and contain Chicago’s speed.

The Maroons quickly adjusted, however, creating easy baskets with sharp passing. Chicago shot an astounding 55.9 percent in the first half to Whitman’s 33.6 field-goal percentage, but the team only carried a 36–28 lead into the break largely thanks to 14 turnovers.

Whitman came roaring back in the second half, opening with a 16–4 run on 14 points from third-year guard Katie Patenaude over the first six minutes. That stretch put the Maroons down 44–40 and digging deep the rest of the way. With Mojidi held to four points and four turnovers before fouling out with 4:11 left, Gutowski stepped up her game with 15 second-half points, seven off her nine free throws.

Fourth-year guard Laura Vertatschitsch’s three pointer with just over two minutes left gave Whitman a 62–59 lead, but Gutowski got her team back in the game, sinking two free throws with 1:39 left and a four-footer with 43 seconds remaining to put her team back up by one.

Whitman made two big mental mistakes from there, starting with a shot-clock violation on the ensuing possession, leaving Chicago with the 63–62 lead and only 9.9 seconds to kill. The visitors played tight defense, almost forcing a turnover with a jump ball, but a quickly called timeout kept the ball in the Maroons’ hands. Schwanz was fouled on the subsequent in-bounds pass and hit two clutch free throws for the final of her 14 points.

“When it was on the line, Korry made both of them yesterday,” Roussell said.

With five seconds left, Vertatschitsch drove down the court and put up a layup in an apparent attempt to draw a foul, but the Maroons didn’t touch her and ended up with a 65–64 win.

Both Gutowski (19.5 points, 5.0 boards per game) and Schwanz (14.5 points, 3.0 assists per game) were named to the All-Tournament team, and the former also ended up as the overall MVP. Rapier came out of the weekend averaging 11.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game, and fourth-year forward Jenn Kaiser contributed 13 more boards in the two contests.

“Nofi’s on the bench yesterday, and both Nicaya and Jenn played very well,” Roussell said. “Not all of our players are going to have off nights. If some do, we can still recover because we have so much talent.”

Though Chicago’s opening weekend wasn’t always tightly played, the Maroons appear to have most of the elements in place. Individual performances were about as good as could be expected, and putting it together as a team is the next step.

“We’re so far ahead of where we were last year,” Roussell said. “I’d even venture to say that we’re further ahead than we were during some of our conference season last year. That’s a tribute to our returners, our seniors have picked up where they left off. If we can keep improving, we’re not ready for UAA yet, but we’re going to be in good shape.”

The Maroons play two road games this week, starting with Blackburn today at 7:30 P.M. and Concordia at 1 P.M. on Saturday.