January 20, 2006

Opportunity for revenge, chance to make mark on league race for women’s basketball

It’s hard to forget a heartbreaking loss. It’s even harder when that loss proves to be the difference between a conference title and no postseason. For the women’s basketball team, it may just be the motivating factor used this weekend against a pair of powerhouse opponents.

For the first time since Brandeis became the only UAA team to beat the Maroons at Ratner last February 4, the Judges will be back on the court on the South Side tonight.

“I’ve been thinking about [the 68–62 home loss to Brandeis] since last February,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “You try not to make it too personal, try not to buy into that too much. But all of us have a sense of pride here. The only team to beat us twice, the last team to come in here and beat us on our home floor—there’s a sense of pride that you want to step up and not let that happen again.”

This weekend will be a UAA battle royale. By the time it’s all over, all four of the league’s ranked teams will have faced each other for the first time, and the conference championship picture could be radically changed. Seventh-ranked Brandeis (11–1, 2–1) and 18th-ranked NYU (13–1, 2–1) will make their Midwest swings, visiting both the 20th-ranked Maroons (13–1, 2–1) and second-ranked Wash U (13–1, 3–0). Even though Chicago has the critical home-court advantage in both of their bouts, it’s hard to pick out a clear favorite.

“There’s no nights off in this league, but obviously these teams are—no question about it—at the top of the league,” Roussell said.

Though the Maroons were derailed two weeks ago in an 83–59 blowout loss to Wash U, they got back on track last weekend—even if it took more than a half to do so. Chicago found itself down 16 points at halftime against Case (8–6, 1–2 through today), but the team got the monkey off its back after the break, coming out with a 14–2 run that narrowed the gap down to 44–40 with 13:45 left.

Down 10 points eight minutes later, Chicago again responded with a run, this time rattling off 18 unanswered points in the last 4:57 to clinch a 70–62 victory. Second-year guard Nofi Mojidi was central to the comeback, scoring 12 second-half points for a game total of 17 and nailing the layup ithat finally put the Maroons ahead for good with 2:39 left.

“It was huge to come back. To sit here this week to be 2–1 in this league is a heck of a lot different than being 1–2,” Roussell said. “Being three road games, you can’t be all too unhappy with being 2–1. As far as what we learned, when we defend and we rebound, we’re pretty good.”

Mojidi was Chicago’s leading scorer again Sunday, dropping 16 points on a desperate Emory (10–4, 0–3) squad in the Maroons’ 72–62 win. The Eagles kept chipping away at the Maroons’ lead, tying the game at 61 with 1:54 left before the visitors broke off an 11–1 run to seal the deal.

Though both Emory and Case were quality opponents, neither are at quite the level of this weekend’s foes, and the Maroons know they will need to step up. Mojidi’s speed will be an asset to Chicago, as the team plans to tun at the taller Brandeis and NYU by running at them. The Maroons are looking to get back to the athleticism that has made them so successful in the first place.

“We need to do the things that we’ve set out to do since October,” Roussell said. “I think we were very good in getting out and getting in transition early in the season, and maybe we have shied away from that a little bit, but a lot of that too is that teams know that that’s our thing and have been trying to take that away. But we have got to get up and down.

“As much as we can sit here and say we’re worried about their size, I think they’re probably worried about our speed.”

One of Mojidi’s best complements on the floor this season has been third-year shooting guard Korry Schwanz, who is quietly having the best season of her career. Having averaged a 38.3 field-goal percentage over her first two seasons, Schwanz has been a lights-out shooter this year, shooting 45.7 percent from the field. An inconsistent shooter in previous years, Schwanz has been dependable this year and one of the team’s main floor generals on both ends of the court.

“She is always the smartest player on the floor, no matter who else is out there,” Roussell said. “She is just a great shooter. She is great at reading the defense and knowing when to shoot it, and she is also great at finding the perfect spot to be in so the her teammates can get her the ball.”