Bears Rev Engines for Playoff Drive
Even free of frantic inbound passes or attempted threes at the buzzer, the senior captains of the men’s basketball team have acknowledged a sense of urgency. Forward Chris Alexander realized “this is it,” and guards Ryan Patton and Derek Laur agree. The team has reached a crucial span in the season where literally every game matters.
In their four most recent contests the Bears (20-2) traveled east of the Mississippi to defeat NYU 81-62 and Brandeis 89-73, thrashed Case Western 103-47 and edged out Rochester 81-78.
“It was a tough two weeks, but it was very rewarding,” said head coach Mark Edwards. “I think being able to take four games on the road and in the conference is a confidence builder.”
Alexander pointed to the CWRU blowout as an uplifting sign. “We just clicked. If we can get to a point where we can all play like that at all times and everybody continues to contribute, we have so many weapons that it’s hard to stop us, and that’s what I’m looking forward to,” he said.
The team is also eager to play at home again and needs to click this weekend. The men will challenge their guests Carnegie Mellon Friday at 8 p.m. and Emory Sunday at 1p.m. Looking back on a 85-69 win Jan. 7 in Pittsburgh over the CMU Tartans, now 7-15, the WU players expect a stronger fight from Emory (12-10 , 8-4 UAA). The Bears left Atlanta with a narrow 74-71 victory Jan. 5, but the Eagles still pose a large threat.
Edwards characterized Emory as a relatively new team that has really pieced itself together quickly this season. Their greatest force, a strong and persistent defense, can do an awful lot to take you out of your offense, he said.
More importantly, a loss to Emory, or even CMU, could potentially crush the team’s ultimate aspirations for the season-a trip to the postseason. The issue is: WU and Chicago are currently tied at 11-1 in the UAA, and only securing the best conference record can assure the team an automatic bid into the post-season tournament. That automatic bid, which is still up for grabs, would mean a shot at the Bears’ first-ever Final Four appearance and who knows what else. Chicago will play the same two teams this weekend, except on alternate nights. Plus, two Chicago victories and a single WU loss would drop WU to second in the conference, necessitating a win at Chicago Saturday, Feb. 24. Of course, any Bears loss also would threaten their likelihood of receiving one of eight nation-wide at-large bids distributed by the NCAA selection committee.
“That’s a pretty big game there,” Laur said of the Emory obstacle. “So if we win that one we are assured, probably, at least second place, but at the same time second place isn’t the goal by any means. We’re in it to win it.”
However, Laur made a point to not focus so far ahead so soon, keeping his concentration and excitement geared towards this weekend’s match-ups. Laur, as well as Alexander and Patton, know Sunday-Senior Day-will mark the last home game of their careers.
Edwards spoke of the impact the trio has and will continue to have on the program. “They have been here through a very successful era. All three of them have been to the tournament [as sophomores] and have tournament experience,” he said. “They can score; they can pass; they can dribble; they can play defense. But what we really need, in addition to that, is their leadership, and that’s going to be a big part of what takes place here over the next three weeks.”
Each player has learned what role he can play as a leader on the court.
Said Patton, “My junior and senior year I started taking less shots and got other people the ball, and it’s really made our team a lot better. Chris has been a leading scorer for the past couple of years. He’s really exciting to watch too and keeps the fans coming in. He’s really matured a lot; both of us and Derek have. Derek gets off the bench and does a really good job, never makes mistakes.”
Similarly, the seniors have influenced the team off the court as well. All three noted their friendships with each other and closeness with their younger teammates.
Alexander said, “Ryan, Derek and I all are trying to make the most of it. This has been the best season that I’ve had on and off the floor. Just as a team, as a group, this is the most fun I’ve had. We all get along and all enjoy being around each other. Basketball is a game so it should be fun, and we’re enjoying it.”
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