February 25, 2011

Maroons duel top-ten Wash U in conference finale

Women's basketball has won 17 in a row, yet none of them may be as important as this weekend’s game against ninth-ranked Wash U (20–4, 11–2 UAA). Eighth-ranked Chicago (21–3, 13–0) won its second conference title in four years last Sunday, extending its current win streak and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“Going down there and getting a win would be a big deal,” assistant coach Carissa Sain said. “We’ve been playing with a lot of momentum for seventeen games. Winning is contagious, and when you win a lot in a row, it starts to feel like something you expect. But this team doesn’t rest on its laurels.”

Despite already taking the UAA title, the players are confident they won’t slack off leading up to the game.

“It’s one of the games we look forward to the most,” fourth-year guard Dana Kaplan added. “It’s always tense. It’s kind of an unspoken rivalry. They still haven’t given us credit or respect us as UAA champions, and we just want to beat them again to prove we’re the best.”

“We call it ‘Wash Week,’ and we’ve been practicing really hard,” third-year guard Joann Torres said. “The preparation is certainly different. The focus is very intense compared to other weeks.”

“I don’t think it matters if we won the conference or not,” third-year forward Morgan Herrick added. “Wash U is our biggest rival. Regardless of our ranking, we always get hyped up for Wash Week. There’s just excitement in the air. It’s a tradition of UChicago basketball.”

The Saturday match is the only contest of the weekend for Chicago, which is unusual for a team that regularly plays on both Fridays and Sundays. For the one game to be against another traditional UAA power is even more beneficial.

“It’s a huge advantage to just play one team over the weekend,” Herrick continued.

“Being able to focus on just one team and their personnel and playing style is great. We can just focus on the plays of one team, and that makes it easier to concentrate in practice.”

“We have a perennial kind of point to make by beating Wash U. We have always split with them, so our girls have a lot of pride on the line,” Sain added. “They want to win, and close it out, and be undefeated. We want to be unquestionably the best team in the UAA.”

And as Kaplan pointed out, winning the league title isn’t going to mean much to the opponent.

“It’s going to be a dog fight. They’re very well-coached since they were the national champions last year,” she noted. “For them, we’re just another good team to beat. Our run doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Even with an NCAA Tournament berth clinched, the team needs to finish strong to potentially host a first-round game.

“We’re on a long win streak, and we always prepare to win,” Herrick concluded. “If we lose, it’s just that much more motivation to get prepared for the first game of the tournament. But winning at Wash U would top off a great UAA season. We can’t slack off. We have to keep going at this pace and keep our run going into the tournament.”