With wins over Rochester and ranked Emory, women’s basketball climbs back into UAA contention

| Senior Sports Editor

As the clock wound down in overtime, sophomore Samantha Weaver put her body between the basket and No. 25 Emory University’s Allison Chernow, who already had 23 points on the day. Weaver spread her arms, forcing Chernow to spin to her right, away from the net and from victory. With three seconds left Chernow lifted both hands above her head and let the ball fly, but Weaver contested it and the ball deflected lazily off the rim.

Curran Neenan

Freshman Rachel Mahler (left) dives for a ball in the women’s basketball team’s victory over the
University of Rochester Friday. Mahler matched her season total with five points on Sunday.

The Washington University women’s basketball had come into the weekend having won just one of its five University Athletic Association matchups. With Emory’s miss, the Bears left the weekend having won two more: over the Eagles, 85-83, on Sunday and over the University of Rochester on Friday night, 79-67.

With the two wins, the Bears advanced to 10-8 on the year and 3-4 in the UAA, bringing them from last place in the conference to fourth place with the entire second half of the UAA season remaining.

“We’re starting to understand each other a little better and move on the same page,” head coach Randi Henderson said after Sunday’s win. “It’s been fun to watch them get better.”

Wash. U. and Rochester came into Friday night’s game at the bottom of the UAA, both sporting 1-4 conference records. Both teams got off to slow starts, with the Bears missing their first six shots from behind the arc and committing eight turnovers in the first 14 minutes. By the end of the first quarter, the Yellowjackets led, 17-12.

The Bears pulled even when freshman Naomi Jackson broke the three-point drought with a shot from the top of the arc three minutes before halftime. Rochester quickly went ahead again, but the Bears never let them extend the margin past four points. Wash. U. trailed by three, 30-27, as the game went to halftime.

Then the Red and Green pulled away. Some locker-room motivation proved an aid for Wash. U. Henderson explained that she told the players “that if they don’t move the ball around, they’re gonna sit on the bench,” a message that she said builds on one the team has hammered home in practice. It paid off. “We moved the ball better in the second half and we started really playing together and trusting each other, which is a big part of the game,” Henderson said.

After shooting an anemic 32.4% from the field in the first half, the Bears started connecting more often after halftime, raising their shooting percentage over 50%. The defense also created more turnovers and limited the Yellowjackets, keeping them to just 3-12 from long range in the second half. The Yellowjackets had one fewer turnover than the Bears, but they could not capitalize on the Bears’ mistakes, scoring just seven points off turnovers to the Bears’ 17.

Despite the Bears’ lead that fluctuated between high single and low double digits, there was still tension at the Field House late. Rochester kept fouling the Bears to keep them from connecting on layups, sending Wash. U. to the line 24 times in the second half. The Red and Green never let the Yellowjackets crawl back. They won, snapping a two-game losing streak.

Senior Kristina Schmelter, who finished with 14 rebounds and a career-high 28 points, credited the Bears’ effort in the second half with their improved performance. “I think we just kept with our fight,” she said. “I think we fought the whole game whether the other team did or not. And I think that showed when they went on lulls: We were able to keep up and then push ahead.”

Three other players also scored double-digits. Weaver and freshman Sammi Matoush had 14 and 13 points, respectively, while freshman Maya Arnott had ten in her first career start. “[Arnott] is really good when she catches it off the dribble or in the paint,” Henderson said. “She’s been working really hard since the beginning of her time here. We’ve been working with her and she’s been open to getting better and better, so I just feel like it’s really coming on for her. I hope she stays hungry.”

Arnott’s performance on Friday earned her another start on Sunday against Emory. She helped Wash. U. off to a quick start, going 4-4 from the field and securing four rebounds in the first half. In stark contrast to Friday night’s slow start, against Emory the Bears were strong early. They scored 26 points in the first quarter, one more than they had in the entire first half versus the Yellowjackets, and shot at 52.9% from the field.

Bolstered by Arnott, Schmelter’s 11 points and three long-range shots from freshman Molly Gannon, the Bears took a 43-34 lead into halftime. But the Wash. U. offense faltered after halftime, with the Bears going 2-12 from the field in the first eight minutes of the third quarter. The Eagles came back, chipping away slowly before a three-pointer tied it up at 54 with 2:45 to go in the third quarter.

From then on it was neck-and-neck. The Bears got back up to a seven-point lead with 6:08 left in regulation, but Emory kept coming back. Wash. U. continued to shoot poorly in the fourth quarter, going 27.8% from the field, but they stayed in the game thanks in part to numerous free throw opportunities. Wash. U. went to the line 16 times in the second half as opposed to just ten times for the Eagles, scoring nearly 40% of their fourth quarter points on free throws. “We’ve just been trying to work on finishing with contact,” Henderson said, adding that foul discipline on both sides of the ball has been an area of focus for the Bears recently.

Henderson explained that Emory had initially doubled the Wash. U.’s post players, Arnott and Schmelter, but that once the Bears began kicking the ball out to the guards on the perimeter the Eagles changed that defense. The shift enabled Wash. U. to rely more heavily on their play in the paint and less on outside shooting. They scored 36 points inside, keeping pace with the Eagles’ 38.

Still, Wash. U. could not put the game away. They had three-point leads with 53 seconds and 12 seconds, but Emory erased them each time. Chernow sank a long three with six seconds left in regulation to tie things up before Arnott’s layup attempt as the clock expired, sending the game to overtime.

The Eagles kept sending Wash. U. to the free throw line in overtime and the Bears kept finding success there. They were seven of eight from the line in the extra period, as the energy and fight that Schmelter had mentioned Friday stayed around Sunday. Emory led until 27 seconds remained when Matoush drilled two free throws to take the lead.

With Weaver’s defense on the final play, the Bears held on. “Sam [Weaver] is a really good on-ball defender,” Henderson said. “My hope was that she wouldn’t foul [Chernow] and that she would force her to take a contested shot, which is what she did.”

Gannon and Arnott both finished with career-highs in points, scoring 24 and 17, respectively, while Schmelter passed 20 once again. “Our hard work really translated onto the floor today,” Gannon said. “It was a really good team win.”

Henderson said that the players’ recent positivity played a role in the two victories. “There’s a lot more high fives and communication and compliments and just encouraging each other,” she said. “Energy is contagious, positive or negative, and [the players] are just choosing to be a lot more positive,” Henderson added, observing that the increased positivity came at a tough time for the team after the two UAA losses at home last weekend.

The Bears will take on the same opponents next weekend on the road, with Rochester on Friday and Emory on Sunday.

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