February 3, 2009

In critical UAA weekend, lethargic Chicago no match for Judges, Violets

After heading into the weekend riding the momentum of beating top-ranked Rochester and looking for a chance to cement their place at the top of the conference, women’s basketball comes back to Ratner licking its wounds from two tough losses.

Dropping back-to-back decisions for the first time this season, illness and disappointing effort both played their part as the Maroons (13–5, 4–3) fell 71–59 to NYU (16­–2, 5–2) and 63–53 to Brandeis (13–4, 3–4).

“Obviously it was very disappointing to lose two games,” head coach Aaron Roussell said, “especially against conference-title contenders.”

Kicking their weekend off Friday, Chicago had to do without star first-year guard Bryanne Halfhill, who was sidelined with a stomach flu that also limited the playing time of other starters. Scoring first off a layup from third-year forward Molly Hackney, the Maroons saw the first-half lead change six times, with NYU leading for much of the final ten minutes until quick threes from fourth-year guard Alex Leach and third-year guard Jamie Stinson put the South Siders up 34–33 at the buzzer.

Despite keeping it close at the break, the Maroons stumbled out of the locker room and let the Violets go on a 17–3 run that put the home team up by 13.

“I think they came out with a ton of energy, and we probably lacked that energy,” said Roussell. “That’s something we’ve been really good with this year, coming out of the half, and unfortunately for us we didn’t take advantage of that Friday.”

After a few time-outs to regroup, Chicago managed to trim the Violets’ lead to only five with 4:58 to play on the heels of nine second-half points from Leach, who led the Maroons in scoring with 19. This proved to be too little, too late, however, as a late surge from NYU, aided by a pair of treys in a minute, halted the Maroon comeback and iced a 71–59 victory.

Looking to rebound against the Judges on Sunday, Chicago only found a more lopsided result as Brandeis, spurred by an 11–5 run to start the game, took the lead three minutes in and held on. En route to their lowest-scoring half of the season, the Maroons shot just 25.9 percent from the field in the stanza and scored two points in the last seven minutes.

Chicago found energy after the half this time, coming out from the lockers to start a 12–0 run that was sparked by a trey from a healthier Halfhill who led the team with 17 points in her return. The Maroons pulled within four points only to watch the margin grow again, and then mounted another comeback that put the score at 52–47 with 3:25 remaining. However, the South Siders once again couldn’t force a win down the stretch as Brandeis pulled away for a final time.

“To Brandeis’s credit, they really hit shots…” said Roussell. “I was very impressed with the way they moved the ball and got open shots. They just beat us. And when they missed, we did a terrible job on the boards. It was probably the worst rebounding we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

After averaging 43.6 rebounds a game this season, the South Siders picked up only 19 boards Sunday, a season low. Chicago’s characteristically stingy defense also allowed the Judges to shoot at a 43-percent clip from the field, way above their season average of 31 percent.

Commenting on the troubles on the boards, Roussell said, “I think it was a byproduct of a lack of fire, a lack of energy, a lack of intensity, and those are the things you need to be a good defensive, a good rebounding team.”

The pair of losses moved Chicago from a four-way first-place tie in the conference to sole possession of fourth place. Rochester and Wash U (14–4, 6–1) are splitting top honors with 6–1 conference records. Now the Maroons turn to leg two of the UAA schedule and will be looking to up their intensity when Brandeis comes to town Friday.

“We got outplayed in both games,” Roussell said. “Both teams we played deserved to win. Both teams came out with more heart than we did. And we’ve got to find that.”