In their success so far this season, women’s basketball has relied on aggressive rebounding and a balanced, widespread, team-oriented attack. But in a hostile away environment, mistakes broke down these two strengths at the worst possible time, and the result was predictable: a 67–56 loss to Wash U (9–3, 1–0 UAA) to open the critical conference season.
Drawing first blood in the next chapter of a heated rivalry, second-year forward Molly Hackney put Chicago (9–3, 0–1) up by two with a jumper in the game’s opening minute. Then, with a flurry of three treys in under three minutes, the Maroons watched their lead skyrocket, capped by a bucket from first-year guard Dana Kaplan that put the home team down 18–7 with 13 minutes to go in the stanza.
However, comfort became something that the Maroons couldn’t afford, as the Bears, seemingly embarrassed by this wide margin, fought back with added tenacity, and drew Chicago to 19–16 in a four- minute span.
“We hit some threes early that gave us a false sense of how well we were actually playing,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “When you build a lead based on hitting a string of threes it usually catches up with you, which it did on Saturday.”
When a three-pointer from third-year guard Alex Leach put Chicago ahead 31–23 with a little over four minutes to play in the half, it looked as though the South Siders could still make it to the locker room in charge of the game.
The Bears had other plans. Third-year guard Halsey Ward grabbed seven of her game -high 26 points in the next four minutes, and her jumper just before the buzzer gave Wash U their first lead of the day.
As the game dragged on and the home side’s lead widened, Chicago strayed from the rebounding and pass-oriented offense that have been the cornerstones to their success so far this season. Entering the game with the second-best rebound margin in the nation, the Maroons let the Bears escape with a narrow advantage in boards.
“I was disappointed in our lack of aggressiveness and toughness especially on the boards,” Roussell said. “That has been our identity and the way we have won games to this point, but that did not show up on Saturday. We now have some things to prove both in practice and in our upcoming games.”
Taking bad shots and not creating scoring chances with frequent passing, Chicago shot 31 percent from the field, a far cry from the squad’s season average of 42 percent.
“Unfortunately, we got a bit too pushy and stopped playing as a team,” Roussell said. “I was incredibly disappointed in our selfishness and lack of team play for a majority of the game on offense.”
“When we moved the ball around and ran our offenses we had great looks at the basket,” Hackney added. “Unfortunately we were taking quick shots and forgetting to play as a team.”
Despite uncharacteristic mistakes from the Maroons, the squad still had a chance until late in the game, aided by the Bears’ own difficulty at making buckets from the field.
Hitting back-to-back baskets just before second-year guard Jamie Stinson drained two free throws, Hackney helped Chicago pull to within a possession of the Bears as Stinson’s goal from the line made it 52–49 with seven minutes to play.
Yet the Maroons handed Wash U six points off of free throws in the next three minutes, and the home team’s 9–0 run put them up by 12 heading into the game’s final moments.
“They obviously hit their free throws which was nice for them,” Rousell said. “But I think the bigger factor was that they actually got to the free throw line. For whatever the reason we couldn’t get there, which hurt us, but that is something you have to overcome to win on the road in the UAA.”
Shooting a deadly 93 percent from the line, the Bears collected 21 points from fouls, while Chicago only managed 8.
“I think that the most frustrating part of the loss is that Wash didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves,” Hackney said. “We showed at times that we were the better team on the floor, but we just made too many mistakes and couldn’t finish the game.”
While opening conference play with a loss is frustrating, the game only reinforced Chicago’s strengths, and showcased what happens when the squad strays from its winning style. Knowing that it will be tough to pick up a W without a pass-oriented offense or aggressive boards, the South Siders have a cemented identity to protect when Case (8–4, 1–0) comes to town this weekend.