After suffering its first losses since December 4, women's basketball is itching to get back on the court, even if that means immediate rematches against two ranked teams.
"It's just another great opportunity," third-year forward Susie Gutowski said. "Playing games where you win by 50 is fun, but playing a good team and winning will always be better."
Chicago (12-6, 5-2) returns home Friday for the first time in three weeks, hosting 14th-ranked Brandeis (15-2, 5-2) in a critical conference tilt.
"Winning games on the road in this conference is tough, so winning games at home is a must," said second-year guard Korry Schwanz, who leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game. "We're especially excited to get a second chance to play these teams right away because we know we didn't play that great this past weekend."
In last Sunday's game, Brandeis first-year forward Jamie Capra lit up the scoreboard, going 3-for-4 from downtown and scoring 25 points with 7 rebounds. The Judges' two other biggest contributorssecond-year Caitlin Malcolm (15.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg) and third-year Christine Clancy (12.2, 5.4)also added 31 points, 13 of them from the line.
The Maroons know that winning round two will revolve largely on making the proper mental and strategic adjustments to contain the trio.
"We've got guards that are fast enough to stop someone like her, but we just didn't do it on Sunday," said head coach Aaron Roussell, who with another win will preside over Chicago's first winning season in four years. "We just had some individuals that didn't play up to par defensively. I don't know if it was a fatigue factor or what, but we had some kids that just didn't get it done.
"But I know that they have enough pride that they'll go out and get it done this weekend."
Gutowski, who was named UAA Athlete of the Week, and Schwanz combined for 37 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists, but the Maroons were unable to sustain momentum without a consistent offense in place.
They committed 21 turnovers in the game, with 13 coming in the first half, against 10 for the Judges, and made a number of uncharacteristically bad decisions. The offense, which leads conference scoring in league-only games, relies on always looking for available options, often going first to Gutowski in the post and then to the guards outside. Against Brandeis, too many bad shots were forced because individuals tried to do too much themselves.
Sunday's match-up against seventh-ranked conference leader NYU (16-2, 6-1) will likely be the tougher of the two games, but the Maroons are resisting looking that far ahead.
"We're not in any position to say, We need this to happen, and then we win the conference,'" Roussell said. "We're biting off more than we can chew if we start getting into that mode right now."
Chicago's 91-68 loss at NYU appears intimidating in the box score, but the Violets happened to be hitting all cylinders that day, particularly in the second half. NYU's 18-year head coach called her team's performance the best she has seen.
Yet the Maroons know that in order to present competition for the tall, physical, and talented Violets, they need to step up to the challenge. Home-court advantage, where the Maroons are 8-2 this season, won't even come into play if they don't improve their interior defense and rebounding.
"We just have a hard time matching up with them," Roussell said. "They've got kids in their guard spots that are taller than our post players. So it's been a tough match-up."
Against physically dominant teams like NYU and Brandeis, Chicago's young bench has played to mixed results.
While first-year Nicaya Rapier (5.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and third-year Rose Kulczycki (47 percent field-goal, 52 percent three-point) have offered higher-energy, defensively stingy playing styles for Roussell, his list of available options can grow short against the UAA's best. Still, much of the team's success has been due to players stepping up when one of the team's stars struggles.
"We do have some very capable players coming off our bench, but sometimes the bench gets shortened because of game situations or usually match-ups," Roussell said. "But we are at our best when we can get contributions from everyone, so we need to put ourselves in situations where we can utilize all of our weapons."
The tough stretch, however, doesn't faze the Maroons, who already proved that they can hang with the league's toughest teams, defeating then-fifth-ranked Wash U in the UAA opener, 70-67. In that game, like in their following 75-72 comeback win against Case, Chicago didn't back down when the other team turned up their effort.
"There are some games where you can show up and no matter if you're prepared or not, you'll just win. That's not going to happen with any of the teams in our league," Gutowski said. "We're just looking to get after it and play team basketballthat's really going to counter all their strengths."