It’s three weeks into basketball season: Here’s where WashU’s teams stand

| Senior Sports Editor
A basketball player in a white uniform clutches a basketball between his two hands as he goes up for a shot while a player in a maroon jersey and the white number 11 sticks his left arm in his way. White letters on a green background read "Washington University" off the court above the stands.

Senior Justin Hardy fights through traffic to go up for a shot against Coe College in 2019. Hardy has averaged 14 points per game so far this season. (Photo by Grace Bruton / Student Life)

Three weeks into the winter season, the Washington University men’s and women’s basketball teams have shown a glimpse of what to expect. As both teams begin to settle back into competition, let’s look at what’s happened in their seasons so far. 

Women’s basketball (1-4, vs. University of Wisconsin-Superior, Friday 7:30 p.m. at the Field House)

The women’s team has stumbled out of the gate, but their unattractive 1-4 record does not reflect how competitive their games have been. Three of their four losses this season have come by margins of three points or fewer. With a few shots falling their way, the record could easily look much better. A win in their most recent matchup against Illinois Wesleyan hopefully signals that the team can begin closing games. 

On the offensive side, junior Maya Arnott has been at the center of the action, leading the team in points, rebounds and free throw opportunities. Juniors Naomi Jackson and Molly Gannon have continued their deep-ball shooting from the 2019-2020 season with eight each, and sophomore Jessica Brooks has made an impact in her first taste of competition as well. 

Many aspects of the Bears’ offensive performance, however, have yet to find their rhythm. The Bears’ three-point shooting percentage has varied greatly in the early season, with two performances below 18% contrasted with a stellar 47% mark in their win against Illinois Wesleyan.

Similarly, their turnover rate has hindered some of their closing opportunities. In three of their four losses, the Bears have suffered more turnovers than their opponent — most importantly, those turnovers came late. They’ve turned the ball over more in the fourth quarter than any other time in their games thus far, which explains some of their late fades. If the team wants to lock down wins down the stretch, they’ll need to tighten up in the final minutes. 

The Bears didn’t make the NCAA tournament in the 2019-2020 season and posted a 7-7 record in the University Athletic Association within their 14-11 overall record. While that was a down year, WashU has retained four of their five starters from that season. With that experienced core, complemented by young contributors like Brooks and sophomore Lauren Chao, they hope to post a stronger year and make a push for the UAA title they last captured in the 2018-2019 season.

Men’s basketball (5-1, vs. Hendrix, Friday 5:30 p.m. at the Field House)

After a thrilling buzzer-beater win opened their season against Millikin, the No. 20 men’s basketball team has shot out to a 5-1 record going into December. A loss to Webster in their second game marked two straight outings with a field-goal percentage under 35%, but the Bears have since found their rhythm, shooting above 40% in all of their last four games and above 50% in three of them. 

The strength on the offensive end is due in no small part to their three-point shooting. Led by graduate student Jack Nolan, the Bears are shooting an astounding 42% from three, and while that number may fade slightly as the season goes on (in past years they’ve typically hovered around 37%), expect the deep ball to factor heavily into WashU’s success. Along with Nolan’s team-leading 20 points per game, senior forward Justin Hardy has been a leader on the attack, averaging 14 points and leading the team in rebounds and assists. 

Since the Bears’ loss to Webster, their increased efficiency on offense coupled with strong defensive play all around has led to some lopsided scores: they’ve won two games by 30-point margins, and the other two came by 22 and 18-point margins. 

WashU is currently the highest-ranked UAA team, ahead of No. 22 Emory, the only other top-25 team. Every UAA competitor currently has a winning record, setting the stage for a competitive slate of matchups come January and February. 

After COVID brought a heartbreaking stop to the Bears’ deepest run in the NCAA tournament since 2009 in the 2019-2020 season, the strong start brews hope that they can pick up where they left off. While the team has lost three of the starting five from that season to graduation, many key contributors like Hardy, Nolan, senior Charlie Jacob and senior Kameron Mack remain to bridge the gap. With new faces making immediate impacts, such as freshman Hayden Doyle, who has started every game this season, the Bears have much to be excited about moving forward. 

For both teams, that excitement includes playing in front of a crowd. The men’s and women’s matchups against Hendrix College and University of Wisconsin-Superior, respectively, will be the first Friday night home games in nearly two years — an experience both squads have undoubtedly missed. With the stands filled and hopes high, the Bears hope they can deliver two wins and build momentum early in the season. 

 

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