January 8, 2010

Third-ranked Wash U awaits 'battle-tested' women

A lot is at stake for women’s basketball these coming weeks.

The 21st-ranked Maroons (8–3) are rushing into their first game of UAA play against Wash U (10–1) tomorrow. Though those numbers aren’t great, there’s more than meets the eye. All three of the Maroons’ losses have been against top ten teams, including two former number ones.

“The biggest strength of this team is that it is battle-tested,” head coach Aaron Roussell said. “We have played a very tough schedule. This is a very experienced team, and that experience will definitely help us in UAA play.”

If Chicago had a tough run through its non-conference schedule, the start of UAA action will mean more of the same for the Maroons. Wash U is ranked third in the nation, and they returned all five starters from the squad that beat Chicago 70–55 in the UAA finale last February, then went on to finish as the national runners-up.

The Bears’ only loss this season came back in November against Illinois Wesleyan, the current national number-one. They’re outscoring opponents by more than 17 points this season, and whatever the promise Chicago has shown so far must be on full display tomorrow to beat Wash U. The Maroons will need to continue their success on the defensive side of the ball, and get more-of-the-same from reliable scoring threats like second-year guard Meghan Herrick.

“We are a very balanced team made up of a talented group that has shown up and won some big games against a very tough schedule,” Roussell said. “I would have to say that our biggest contributor so far has been our defense and our efforts on the boards. That always gives you a good chance to win.”

“That being said, Meghan Herrick has really come on as a great player for us this year. Everything has seemed to come together for her so far.”

Herrick put up 16 points and four steals in Chicago’s win against MSOE last Saturday, and showed skill under the basket with 10 rebounds earlier this season against Coe in the Midway Classic.

Leaving St. Louis with a victory, though, will require a winning effort from more than just one player. The Bears have a productive offense, but don’t rely on any single scorer for points.

A trio of forwards—Janice Evans, Zoe Unruh, and Jaime McFarlin—score in the low double digits each game, but a handful of other Bears have shown that they can find the basket, if need be. Stopping all of Wash U’s scorers probably isn’t possible, but to keep them in check, Chicago has to get consistent defensive pressure from all of its starters, plus some assistance from the bench.

But that’s right up the Maroons’ alley. They’ve shown they have the ability to stop teams with their defense, and should they do the same against Wash U, they’ll only increase the confidence they’ve already instilled in their coach.

“I really like this team and feel we have the makeup of a deep NCAA tournament run,” Roussell said. “Though we could use some more consistent play from our top girls, we will be a tough-out for every team remaining on our schedule.”