Men’s basketball clinches 15th UAA title with win over Case Western Reserve University
For the past few weeks it seemed like a matter of if, not when, the Washington University men’s basketball team would clinch the UAA title. The moment finally came for the Bears this Friday, when they waltzed to a 101-61 victory over Case Western Reserve University which clinched at least a share of the University’s 15th UAA championship.
With a chance for a conference title on the line, Wash. U. made no mistakes and put the game to rest early, closing the first half on a 21-3 run, pushing their halftime lead to 51-29. Senior forward Andrew Sanders scored nine in the half, but it was a balanced attack that did most of the damage, with 10 Bears registering points in the first half.
The second half saw more of the same. After a few quieter scoring games, freshman Jack Nolan did not miss a single shot against Case and finished with 19 points. Sophomore forward DeVaughn Rucker was seemingly able to get to the free throw line at will, and he scored seven of his career-high 14 points from the line. The Bears closed out both a 40-point win over Case and their second straight conference crown.
Business was not quite finished for the weekend, and the Bears still had to play Sunday night against a scrappy Carnegie Mellon University team, who put Wash. U. in the unfamiliar position of being behind on the scoreline at halftime. The Bears, however, found a burst of energy in the second half to close out the penultimate game of the season.
It was a fitting Senior Day performance from the seniors of the Wash. U. basketball team as Andrew Sanders, David Schmelter, Kevin Kucera and Jake Knupp all dropped double-digit performances against the Tartans. Sanders, Schmelter and Kucera all tacked 18 points each. Schmelter recorded another double-double, his ninth of the season, crashing the boards for a total of 14 rebounds while shooting an efficient 63 percent from the field. Kucera was automatic from three-point range, making six of his 10 attempts, and contributed nine assists.
The Tartans came out roaring in the first half, matching the Bears for pace and playing solid defense. Zach Howarth was lethal from midrange, shooting a perfect three-for-three from two-point territory, and racked 13 crucial points for the Tartans. Carnegie’s Colin McNeil was all over the floor, dropping 13 points on 66 percent shooting with two steals to boot. At the end of the half, McNeil scored five consecutive points while freshman guard Zach Watson hit a buzzer beating layup to close out the first half on top, 45-39.
Despite Carnegie Mellon’s overwhelming first half, the Bears managed to stay within striking distance. Schmelter was a huge presence on the glass, rebounding the ball seven times. Sanders was an offensive and defensive presence that the Tartans could not deal with, racking up 12 points, five rebounds, and four assists to pair with two steals and a block.
Down six entering the second half, the beginning of the half went nearly to perfection for the Bears. For the first five minutes, the Wash. U. defense limited Carnegie Mellon to just six points, forcing the Tartans to miss shot after shot and turn the ball over three times during this stretch.
What was a close game in the first half turned into a blowout in the second. After that opening defensive stretch, the Bears pushed forward with a full head of steam, with all members of the team pouring shots from both the paint and three point range. Consecutive threes from Matt Nester and Kevin Kucera eliminated any chance of a Carnegie Mellon comeback, with Wash. U. taking a commanding 17-point lead with three minutes left in the game.
With the win against Carnegie Mellon, the Bears have won 14 games straight, and have been undefeated in the UAA. With 22 regular season wins and one game to go, the Bears have a chance to post their best wins total since the 2008-2009 season, which ended in a national title.
To get that 23rd win, the Bears will need to beat rival University of Chicago in their home gym next Saturday. After a 2017 season that saw a UAA-championship team exit the NCAA tournament in the second round, the Bears will hope that this year a conference crown leads to a deep run in March.