February 22, 2005

Women's hoops sweep not enough to stay in UAA race

Despite sweeping their final homestand, women's basketball is likely out of the running for a league title.

It was a bittersweet weekend for the Maroons, all but eliminated in the hunt for first in the UAA even as they added two more in the win column, and witnessing a record for head coach Aaron Roussell as they said goodbye to the team's sole fourth-year, Carlee Tressel. The Maroons (16-8, 9-4) took down a hot Rochester team 70-61 Friday, and put away a weak Carnegie Mellon squad 53-39 Sunday.

Two wins apiece on the weekend by conference co-leaders Brandeis and Washington locked Chicago out of their first UAA title since the 1988-89 season. Still, the team remains hopeful for an at-large bid.

That roadblock didn't stop the Maroons from turning what looked like a tough game against Rochester into a relatively easy Chicago win Friday night. The team had to dig deep to pull out a 82-74 overtime win over the Yellowjackets at the Palestra January 23, and Rochester entered the night on a six-game winning streak. At Ratner, Chicago opened things up with a 9-2 run, and led 44-27 at halftime. While second-year Danielle Muller had 11 points in the second half to help push her teammates within five with less than five minutes to go, she couldn't close the gap on her own, and Chicago pulled away late.

"We played well that first half on Friday," head coach Aaron Roussell said. "As for the second-half, they're just a good team, but we did a good job of holding them off."

Third-year forward Susie Gutowski led the way for the Maroons with 17 points. Second-year guard Korry Schwanz added 14 of her own, and first-year forward Nicaya Rapier also broke into double-digits with 13 points. Rapier helped the team under the hoop, as well, leading the team with eight rebounds.

Where Rochester proved to be less of a challenge than anticipated, UAA bottom-feeder Carnegie Mellon proved to be more so. Still, the Maroons led for all but the first 32 seconds of play, and finished their home schedule off right with a 53-39 victory. The game was monumental, as the team's 16th win gave Roussell the most ever accumulated by a first-year coach of the program. It also marked the last time that fourth-year Carlee Tressel would play Div. III basketball at Ratner.

The Maroons struggled a little to keep their focus. "The thing that was most difficult was the realization that we won't compete at home again with Carlee," first-year guard Nofi Mojidi said.

"This team would not be the same without Carlee," Schwanz said. "She's an unbelieveable leader and team player. It was great to have the opportunity to have Carlee Tressel Day and celebrate it with her family and her friend Jerome."

Considering the ease with which the Maroons beat Carnegie (4-19, 0-12) last time—they led 45-8 at halftime—Chicago expected an easy win. What they got, instead, was an opponent that fought tooth and nail, and kept the score relatively close for most of the contest.

After the five minutes of sloppy play, a Tartan free throw had the visitors within two of the Maroons, 8-6. Chicago opened up their lead before another Carnegie run whittled the margin to two points again, 24-22, with six minutes to go in the half. Chicago tightened up its offense from there on out, and held a 35-24 lead at the half.

"Last time at Carnegie we didn't let them have any second shots and were super aggressive," said third-year forward Susie Gutowski, who tied Mojidi with a team-leading 16 points. "This time we just looked tired and unmotivated. It was a question of focus and energy."

Despite this, the Maroons still managed to overmatch the Tartans. Chicago won the battle of the boards, and had a slight edge in turnovers in a game that featured 43 of them. Ultimately two three-pointers off the bench by third-year guard Rose Kulczycki gave the Maroons a 51-32 lead, effectively putting the game away.

"The win against Carnegie was an important one to get, but it was disappointing to win the way we did," Schwanz said. "If we play as sloppy as we did this Sunday against Wash U, we're going to get creamed. It's not going to be easy, but there is a lot at stake and none of us want this season to be over yet."

For their final game of the year, the Maroons will face 10th-ranked Washington Saturday.

The pressure will be high, but unlike Sunday's game, when a few uncharacteristic slip-ups still equated to a win, the Maroons will need to bring their A-games to steal a win at St. Louis.