January 30, 2009

Weekend road trip to NYU, Brandeis could be critical in race for conference title

[img id="77217" align="alignleft"] If this past week should teach the Maroon faithful anything, it’s that the women’s basketball team likes to play it cool.

Take Sunday afternoon at Rochester (15–1, 4–1), for example. In a match-up with then-first-ranked Rochester, Chicago (13–3, 4–1) was the underdog. But after 40 minutes of dominant basketball, when the scoreboard read 71–51 in favor of the visitors, the Maroons didn’t want to act too excited. After all, it was only a win over the country’s best team.

“After we knew we were up 20, we didn’t want to make a big deal after the game, cheering on the court. By the time we got to the locker room, we were pretty excited,” fourth-year guard Alex Leach said. “I think we were not in disbelief that we won but that we won by so much.”

Or ask someone on the team about the standings. Heading into conference play, the Maroons were on the outside looking in, facing the task of plotting a path around three teams ranked ahead of them in the polls. Now, nearly halfway through the conference schedule, there’s a four-way dance at the top of the UAA, and with two road wins already, the South Siders are wearing dancing shoes.

They’ll smile while talking about their four-game winning streak, but it’s back to game faces when looking at the long road ahead.

“Sunday’s not going to mean as much if you drop a few these next two weekends,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “All we’ve done is put ourselves in a good position; it’s going to be tough to stay there.”

The 20th-ranked Maroons will look to keep their game faces on when they head back to the Northeast this weekend for clashes with NYU and Brandeis, two teams on seemingly divergent paths.

NYU (15–1, 4–1), now ranked 10th in the country and winners of their last four contests, is at the top of the conference, as expected. Forward Jessica McEntee has shouldered the burden for NYU all season, averaging 19 points and nearly 13 rebounds per game. The current UAA Athlete of the Week, McEntee scored 26 points in each of the Violets’ games last weekend while totaling 20 rebounds.

“She’s as good as they get,” Roussell said, “and they’ve got a lot of other complementary players that play well with her. They’re probably one of the more athletic teams, if not the most athletic team, that we’ll see this year, and they also have size, so it’s going to be a really tough match up for us.”

On Sunday, Chicago makes the trip to Brandeis (12–3, 2–3), a team that, after winning 10 straight to start the season, has lost three of five conference games. Still, the trip to Waltham has been the Maroons’ seven-year itch, as the South Siders haven’t won at Brandeis since 2001.

Always a strong shooting team, the Judges lead the UAA with 43.3-percent field goal shooting this season. Sharpshooters from beyond the arc, Brandeis hits 38.3 percent from three-point territory, 11th-best in the country.

The Maroons, though, are looking forward to defending one of the best offensive players in the country in McEntee and one of the conference’s best offensive teams in Brandeis, as defense has been Chicago’s anchor all year. After forcing Carnegie and Rochester to shoot a combined 26 percent over the weekend, the Maroons are ranked first in the country in opponent field goal percentage.

Now, Chicago is looking to close out the first swing through the UAA on a high note.

“I know in the locker room after that game [against Rochester], we said if we play like this, we’re going to win another conference championship,” Leach said. “So, I think our big goal now is to win as many games as we can on the road, to protect our house when we play back home, and then make the last game at Wash U count for something in the end.”

If they can do that, maybe then they’ll think about making a scene.