Trouble in the Windy City: Men’s, women’s basketball lose in Chicago
Both Washington University basketball teams traveled to Chicago for a doubleheader UAA finale against the University of Chicago Saturday. The two games had greatly different stakes for the two teams: The women needed a win to boost their odds of securing a playoff berth, while the men had already wrapped up a conference title with only the pride of winning a rivalry game on the line. Both teams, however, came up short against Chicago squads that had other plans.
The women came into the last game of the season needing a win against a Maroons team that was about as hot as they come. Chicago was ranked No. 10 in Division III, and had not lost a game since Nov. 21. They were in the midst of a 20-game winning streak, and on average were outscoring opponents by nearly 18 points.
The Bears took the lead only once in the game, on a first quarter three-pointer by junior guard Rachael Sondag. Chicago pulled ahead, however, largely thanks to the scoring of guard Mia Farrell who had 12 in the half. The Maroons ended the first half with five unanswered points.
Chicago stretched the lead to as many as 18 points midway through the third quarter on a layup from Marissa Igunbor. The Bears mounted a bit of comeback down 50-65 with two minutes left in the quarter, ignited by another three from Sondag. Wash. U. outscored Chicago 8-1 as the third quarter came to a close, setting up a tense finale.
Chicago managed to maintain that distance through the fourth, though the Bears would not go away and nearly got back into the game with less than a minute to play. With 19 seconds left on the clock, junior forward Caroline Ballard nailed a pull-up three to cut the deficit to 89-94. With Wash. U. forced to foul, Chicago’s Taylor Lake stepped to the line with just ten seconds to play.
Lake missed both from the line, and Sondag was fouled off the ball on the second miss, giving her a chance to cut the Maroons’ lead to just three without burning any time. Sondag, an excellent three-point shooter, hits just 64 percent from the line and saw her first free-throw come up short, and with it the Bears’ chances.
Chicago’s final total of 96 was largely inflated by the free-throw game at the end of the fourth, though to their credit they did a lot of damage from the line, scoring 30 points off of foul shots. The Maroons had a huge 22-8 margin in turnovers, and their press gave the Wash. U. ball-handlers nightmares all day.
Wash. U. now sits firmly on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. In their favor: Wins against ranked teams like Depauw University (No. 6), University of Rochester (No. 16) and Illinois Wesleyan University (No. 20) and a close losses to Rochester and Chicago. Working against them: Seven losses, including a bad two weeks at New York University.
The men, meanwhile, looked to sweep a Chicago squad it had beaten by a single point back on Jan. 6 to kick off a 13-0 start in 2018. At the Ratner Athletics Center, however, the Maroons would put an end to that streak, beating the Bears 86-77.
Senior guard Kevin Kucera had 21 points, matching a season high, and six assists to lead the Red and Green. Senior forward Andrew Sanders, meanwhile, was limited to 24 minutes by five personal fouls. Sanders had an uncharacteristically rough contest with just four points on 1-of-6 shooting, snapping his 34-game streak of scoring in double figures. The output was also his lowest since January 2016, during his sophomore season, when he also scored four points in a matchup against Chicago.
Freshman guard Jack Nolan also had a rough contest, scoring six on 2-of-10 from the field. He’s been shaky of late; since a midseason 11-game double-digit scoring streak, Nolan has reached the mark in just two of eight games.
The Maroons relied mostly on Jake Fenlon to carry the load, as he toasted the Bears for 31 points on 9-of-18 shooting and got to the line for a game-high eight free throws. His output was divided evenly between the two halves—16 and 15 points apiece—as Chicago outscored Wash. U. by five and four, respectively, in each period.
The men and women will tune into the tournament selection shows Monday at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively, with placement the only mystery for the men and a 30-year streak of NCAA playoff appearances hanging in the balance for the women.