November 21, 2006

Women’s basketball right at home in classic opener

Sporting a new-look offense, women’s basketball started off its season on the right foot, posting a pair of lopsided victories in a season-opening sweep.

Hosting the 10th annual Midway Classic at Ratner over the weekend, the Maroons (2–0) were led by returning talent and showed off a number of new stars as they bested Kalamazoo (0–2) 76–58 and topped Wittenberg (1–1) 80–58.

“This was a very nice weekend for us,” head coach Aaron Rousell said. “To be 2–0 heading into a tough road weekend feels good. This group showed already that it can beat good teams.”

Facing off Saturday against the Hornets, Chicago won the tip-off from first-year forward Molly Hackney and did not look back, charging ahead to put up four quick baskets for an 8–0 lead. As Kalamazoo gave the team repeated rebound chances, this lead exploded to 14–0.

The Hornets stepped up their game to narrow the margin to 18–9, but third-year guard Korry Schwanz rained down back-to-back threes to push the Maroons farther ahead.

Chicago faced a scoring drought at the end of the period, and the Hornets surged to cut the gap to five as the buzzer ended the half at 35–30.

Rushing back out for the second period, the South Siders ran away with their lead, making it 40–30 right off the jump. After a layup by third-year quard Nofi Mojidi (game-high 20 points) made it 49–41, the Maroons never looked back. Highlighted by Mojidi’s relentless driving, a rash of Chicago buckets clipped the Hornets wings and put the squad up 62–41.

A three from first-year guard Briana Hendrix reinvigorated Kalamazoo, but Chicago countered by heating up its passing game to close out the contest at 76–58. Led by Mojidi and backed up by Schwanz with 14 points, the Maroon offense shot 40.5 percent from the field and made a living off of put-backs in the paint.

“We played really well defensively and for most stretches dominated the boards on both ends,” Rousell said. “Our offense struggled at times, but we got ourselves second chances by getting a lot of offensive rebounds.”

Battling Wittenburg in Sunday’s championship, Chicago faced stiff opposition in a back-and-forth first period that saw the Maroons trail by as much as seven. Mojidi led a brisk comeback, and after her layup put the home team up 12–11, the lead changed hands five times in as many minutes.

Stepping up their game and forcing the Tigers to run up the shot clock, Chicago’s defense deprived the opposition of scoring opportunities. Frustrated, Kalamazoo gave the Maroons seven points from the charity stripe off of four fouls in the final minutes, letting them close the half with the largest margin of the game, 40–28.

Carrying their momentum into the second period, a prolific Chicago offense that shot 47.6 percent for the game put up 16 points in the first five minutes to jump out to a 58–28 lead, trampling a faltering Wittenburg defense. Left uncovered, second-year guard Alex Leach sank two threes in under a minute, and there was visible bickering among the exasperated Tigers as Maroons were left wide open.

Inspired by a burst of energy from third-year post Katie Gregorevich, Wittenburg managed to cut Chicago’s lead to 15 points, outscoring the Maroons 20–8 in the middle of the period. The game’s closing saw significantly less scoring as defenses on each side blocked with renewed vigilance. Yet back-to-back fouls gave the South Siders four easy points, stopping the Tigers’ momentum dead in its tracks and allowing Chicago to pull ahead yet again, clinching the championship 80–58.

Shooting 8–14 with 19 points, Mojidi led her team for the second game in a row, closely followed by Leach with 18. First-year forward/center Jill DiNucci showcased the promise of the newest Maroon generation, shooting perfectly and swooshing all her free throws for 10 points.

“The highlight really was just dominating a good team on Sunday,” Rousell said. “I normally don’t get too high after wins, but I even allowed myself to feel good about this one.

“I am not going to predict anything for this team, but I will say we have potential, and we have not played our best basketball yet.”