With first place in the UAA out of reach, men's basketball aims to end conference play just as they started itwith a three-game winning streak.
Though Rochester (19-3, 10-1) has wrapped up the league title, Chicago has a shot to finish in the top half of the conference. The Maroons (10-12, 6-5) are currently tied with Washington (14-8, 6-5) for third place, a game and a half behind Carnegie Mellon (15-5, 7-3). They finish out the year with games against all three of these teams, facing Rochester tonight and Carnegie Sunday at home, and ending the season at Washington University on February 26.
It has been a streaky season for Chicago. The team sandwiched a four-game skid between two three-game winning streaks, the most recent of which was broken by an 83-68 loss at Emory February 13. Another trio of wins would keep the Maroons out of the second division. A loss in any of their final three games guarantees the team's first back-to-back losing seasons since 1993 to 1995.
However, just as an injury to then third-year forward Mike Dolezal helped break a string of eight winning seasons late last year, health problems have forced some changes in the starting lineup. Fourth-year guard Brian Cuttica sprained his ankle in the team's February 9 practice, and sat out the last two games. While he will dress for Friday's match up against Rochester, it remains to be seen how effective he will be.
Cuttica's spot has been held down by second-year guard Jesse Meyer, who has stepped up as a substitute starter. Meyer had a career-high 33 points in a win over Case February 11, and 12 points and two assists in the loss to Emory.
"Meyer has been playing well most of the season," said head coach Mike McGrath. "It is just a case of where a teammate goes down and you have to step in and play, and Meyer has done very well."
The Maroons are hoping Cuttica's return will help with the difficult task of facing the UAA's two top teams this weekend. If the team hopes to extend their five-game winning streak at Ratner, they must get more consistent on offense. Last weekend, the Maroons made half of their shots from the field in the victory over Case, and then could only hit 37 percent against Emory.
In their first meeting with Carnegie on January 21, Chicago couldn't hold a late lead in an 81-72 loss. Two days later, the Maroons found themselves in a defensive struggle against Rochester. The Yellowjackets held Chicago to 35.3 percent field goal shooting in a 64-52 Chicago loss.
With the home season drawing to a close, the team emphasized how important fan support has been at Ratner this season. Loud fans and wooden "W"-hats abound, the Maroons feel that it's been a big part of their season and hope it continues when the team's three seniorsDolezal, Cuttica, and Justin Waldieare honored this Sunday.
"To the people who have come out and supported the team: I don't know what you're wearing some of the time, but it's been really fun for the players and coaches with the fans coming out to support them," McGrath said. "Please keep that up. It means a lot to people. I think our kids do a special job being more than students here and representing the University.
"I understand what college life is, but Sunday against Carnegie is going to be Senior Day, and it would be nice if people couldmaybe not the same way they do on a Fridayget up, get out, and be supportive that morning because I think these seniors have really earned that."
With UAA standing on the line, the rematches will likely feature a high level of intensity from all comers.
"It'll be very physical and very spirited. We're looking to finish as strong as we can," McGrath said. "We'll play well and play hard. Our goal is to win all three games, but win or lose, we have a great team concept we want to keep."