November 20, 2007

Women’s hoops tops Midway Classic

Chicago’s fast-paced offense hit the ground running this weekend as women’s basketball blew past the competition in the 11th installment of the Midway Classic at Ratner.

Returning with a bevy of talented players from a team that was briefly ranked first in the nation last season, the Maroons (2–0) made quick work of Concordia (0–2) 72–63 on Saturday, and then bested Baruch (1–1) 77–67 on Sunday to take home the early-season hardware.

Opening the Baruch game with a taste of things to come, fourth-year guard Nofi Mojidi corralled the opening tip for the Maroons, drove straight to the basket and laid it in off the glass. Second-year forward Molly Hackney got into the scoring act in the paint and third-year guard Alex Leach added some outside firepower to build the Maroon’s advantage to 22–14 midway through the first half.

Struggling to stop Chicago’s transition offense, Baruch went into a full-court press that frustrated the Maroons’ guards and created a few turnovers. Those turnovers became Bearcat points, and with 5:45 to play in the first half, Baruch had charged back to take a 25–24 lead.

The increased pressure took a toll on the Bearcats, though, and Baruch’s defense dropped back into a zone to get a breather. While the visitors rested, Chicago’s offense surged ahead, closing out the half by outscoring the visitors 13–6 in a run that featured back-to-back threes from Leach and Mojidi and gave the Maroons a 37–31 lead in the locker room.

“The defensive pressure they sprung on us was an attempt to try and slow us down,” Mojidi said. “Though they might have rattled us at times, their mission was not accomplished. By settling down offensively and staying composed, we were able to pass the ball up the floor and break their press.”

As the second half got under way, Chicago shifted their defense to stop fourth-year forward Dominique McClendon, whose 17 first-half points kept the Bearcats in the game. After McClendon got four quick points to open the second period, tough-nosed post play from fourth-year forward Nicaya Rapier and some key blocks from Hackney kept McClendon bottled up for the final 19 minutes.

“[McClendon] is a great player and we knew it was going to be a battle down low,” Hackney said. “We worked together really well and played great help-side defense which I think helped to stop her down low.”

With McClendon locked down, fourth-year guard Chiresse Paradise stepped up for the Bearcats, finding the basket several times as she worked her way to 17 points and 9 assists on the game.

“We knew those were their star players,” head coach Aaron Roussell said of Baruch’s one-two punch with McClendon and Paradise. “They just played really well. Paradise hit some shots against even when we did everything right.”

Spurred on by Paradise’s play, the Bearcats pulled within four points, 52–48, with 11 minutes remaining in the contest. That was as close as they would come, though, as their defensive pressure waned and Chicago got better and better at beating the visitors’ full-court defense. Easy layups off fast breaks and offensive rebounds helped the Maroons rebuild their lead, and Rapier iced the game when she hit two free throws with 1:50 left to give Chicago a 73–62 lead.

Hackney led all scorers in the game, finishing with 25 points on 11-for-21 shooting. Mojidi was second among the Maroons with 17 points, while Leach and fourth-year guard Lori Tanaka added 11 apiece.

As strong as their performance against Baruch was, Chicago’s win over Concordia in their first tournament game was more dominant still. After the Cobbers dropped a trio of early long balls to jump out to an 11–6 lead, their shooters cooled off and the Maroon’s high-speed attack ran out to a 44–26 halftime lead.

“They’re not a great three-point shooting team,” Roussell said. “They came out and hit some early, but I wasn’t panicking.”

Still toothless in the second half, Concordia failed to get any offense going and a flurry of Maroon buckets increased Chicago’s advantage to as many as 30 points. With the game in hand, the Maroons eased up off their starters and the Cobbers narrowed the lead to the final 72–63 margin but never threatened.

Once again finding herself atop the scoring column, Hackney had 12 points against Concordia, and Mojidi chipped in 10 in only 13 minutes on the court. Second-year guard Sara Sorbo led the Cobber attack with 12 points.

The trouble continued for Concordia on Sunday as they lost to Whitworth 76–68 in the consolation game. Baruch beat the Pirates 74–58 on Saturday to make the championship game against Chicago.

Hackney was 8–10 from the line against Concordia and 3–4 against Baruch, a marked improvement from her 61-percent performance at the stripe last season.

“I wanted to improve my percentage from last year,” Hackney said. “I realized that our posts are a huge threat and that teams are going to guard pretty tough in the post so I wanted to make sure that when I get fouled I can finish the play completely with the free throws.”

For her efforts in the two games, Hackney nabbed the Midway Classic MVP award, and both Mojidi and Hackney were named to the All-Tournament squad.

That Mojidi, who had knee surgery this summer, played at all was fortunate for the Maroons.

“I was not expecting to be able to play her at this point of the season,” Roussell said. “We were looking at December or even January.”

In their first away game of the season, the Maroons will take on Edgewood College this Friday.