While it may be a bit early in the season to place bets on women’s basketball’s chances at the playoffs, a pair of road wins this weekend continued the team’s solid start and showed off the strong guards’ play and defense that will carry Chicago in conference play.
Advancing to a perfect 4–0, the Maroons cranked their game up a notch after intermission in both contests to come away with a 70–58 victory at St. Norbert (1–3) Saturday and an 82–72 triumph over UW–Whitewater (4–1) Sunday. Third-year guard Nofi Mojidi paced the squad, totaling 44 points on the weekend while fourth-year guard Korry Schwanz chipped in with another 26 and third-year forward Nicaya Rapier collected 15 rebounds.
“These were very good wins the last three games,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “They’re the kind of teams we will see and will have to beat in January and February.”
Things got off to a bit of a shaky start Saturday for the Maroons, who trailed the Green Knights by a point heading into the break despite managing to hold the upper hand for most of the half. St. Norbert stayed within striking distance for most of the first period and a layup by fourth-year Ellen Hake with seven seconds left put the home side up 29–28 and seemed to swing the momentum their way.
But before the Green Knights had a chance to add to their slim lead, Schwanz sank a jumper that keyed off a 12–2 run and pushed Chicago to a 40–31 advantage just five-and-a-half minutes into the half. After Schwanz got things started, Mojidi took over, notching seven of the points from the opening run and tallying 10 of her 18 on the day in a nine-minute flurry.
For a moment it seemed like the Maroon’s quick turnaround would be wasted when a three-pointer by first-year Tracy Palmer with 3:52 remaining cut the lead to six and poised the home side for a comeback. Chicago nailed all eight of its shots from the free throw line, though, to remain on top and clinch the win 70-58.
Proving to be a second-half team, the South Siders delivered more of the same for the South Siders Sunday against the Warhawks. Once again an early advantage disappeared late in the opening frame with the squad down 38–37 at the buzzer, and once again Mojidi was there to help jumpstart the squad in its return to action.
“There are always adjustments, but I think it really comes down to the kids,” Roussell said. “I think to their credit, they weren’t thrilled with how we played in the first half of either of these past two games, and have enough pride that they wanted to come out and get it done in the second half.”
A Mojidi bucket to start the second half gave the Maroons a lead they never relinquished, and the squad did not trail for the final 18:53 of the game. Showing the makings of a good team, Chicago has consistently finished strong in its four games this season, capitalizing on halftime adjustments to put its opponents away.
“All four games, we have made a run right away to start the second half, and that’s a credit to our kids,” Roussell said.
In some ways, Chicago’s late surges are due partly to its foul trouble in the first stanza. Roussell has opted to sit starters after committing two fouls, a move made as a precaution against ejection that perhaps has limited the team’s production from the get-go. The upside is that the starters are coming off the bench fresh for extra minutes after the break and ready to make up for lost time.
While the success in the final frame has helped lift the Maroons to their perfect mark, the pumped-up defense has played an even bigger part in the team’s success. Last season, the undersized squad made up for its disadvantage at wiping the boards by setting up the fast break. Speed is still a crucial part of Chicago’s game, but some added height in the frontcourt and a strong focus on pulling down rebounds in practice has helped bolster the offense.
“If anything, I want us to be a great, great rebounding team, and I think we have that potential,” Roussell said. “It all starts with defense. That means they’re rebounds to be had that can start our offense and get some points on the board that way.”
So far in the 2006–2007 campaign, the team has averaged 47.2 rebounds per game to opponents’ 33.0, with Rapier setting the tone at 8.3. That squad total is a huge improvement over last year, when the Maroon out-rebounded foes by only four points per game.
The Maroons’ new rebounding strength will be tested in a big way when they take on Aurora (2–1) Wednesday. With fourth-year Naomi Guise netting 32.7 points per game and guaranteed to take a lot of shots, the pressure is on the defense to pull down a lot of boards and send the South Siders into their finals week break undefeated.
“As far as athleticism, I don’t know if we’ll see a whole lot of teams more athletic than what they’ll show us on Wednesday,” Roussell said of the Spartans.