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Women’s basketball defeats top-ranked NYU in hunt for UAA lead

and | Staff Writers

Jess Brooks charges towards the basket in an early season matchup. (Photo by Clara Richards | Student Life)

While many WashU students were off campus over winter break, the women’s basketball team was locked in to their pursuit of a UAA conference championship. After ending last season in a three-way tie for second place, the Bears entered this season looking to compete for the title. By winning four out of their first five conference matchups, including wins over Top 10 ranked New York University and University of Chicago during winter break, the team is tied for first place in the division as they approach the second half of the regular season.

After a nearly two week break from live action, WashU returned to the court for their final pre-UAA tune up at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Tournament. The Bears entered the competition with a 5-3 record and were looking to bounce back following two straight losses. In their first game, the slide continued. The hosts, UW-Oshkosh, overwhelmed the Bears on both sides of the court during the December 29th matchup. The Titans hit 14 3-pointers and forced 23 turnovers to beat the Bears 78-42. The next day, however, the Bears broke their skid. As the clock wound down, the Bears’ tight defense and clutch free throw shooting preserved a 51-47 victory over UW-Stout. WashU was led by senior forward Maya Arnott, whose season-high 20 points earned her a spot on the All-Tournament Team. 

The win provided the WashU squad some much-needed momentum going into UAA play. Following a tough non-conference schedule, the Bears knew that their path was only going to get harder in their quest to conquer the conference. 

“Our conference is really tough,” said head coach Randi Henderson, adding that the team must have a mentality to “show up every day and compete, because every single game is a challenge.” 

In order to establish themselves as contenders, the Bears needed to prove their worth in a tough three-game home stretch to begin conference play. 

Their first visitors, UChicago, entered the contest ranked 10th in the country after a 9-0 start to the season. The Bears went into the halftime break nursing a five-point lead, but they blew the game open after the intermission. After outscoring the Maroons 36-22 in the second half, the Bears handed the visitors their first loss of the season in a 68-49 contest. WashU showed off their strength on the low blocks, winning the rebound battle 55-28 and scoring 38 points in the paint. The performance was led by Arnott, who tallied 15 points and 13 rebounds. Senior Karisa Grandison, junior guard Jessica Brooks, and junior Sammi Matoush all added on double-digit scoring performances, notching 14, 12, and 11 points respectively.

Following the victory, Henderson said that her team’s ability to “[buy] into the game plan and execute defensively extremely well took [the Maroons] out of rhythm and put us in a position to compete for the win.”

A week later, the Bears returned to the Field House Court for a matchup with Brandeis University. Yet again, the Bears entered the second half with a narrow lead, going into the break up 35-29. However, a dominant second-half performance allowed the Bears to cruise to a commanding 89-59 victory. Brooks led the way with a season-high 24 point and 11 rebound double-double. Her impressive performance was supplemented by 18 points from Arnott and four 3-pointers from senior Naomi Jackson.

Following two dominant victories to reign in the New Year and a new UAA season, the Bears faced their toughest test yet when the top-ranked team in the nation and defending conference champions NYU traveled to St. Louis. The Bears looked to capitalize on their three game win streak in a game that lived up to the high expectations. After a neck and neck 12-12 first quarter, NYU pulled away in the second, feeding off three 3-pointers and going 8-8 on free throws. However, the second half proved to be a different story. NYU continued their three-point dominance, but a strong performance by Brooks kept WashU in the game. NYU took only an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter.

NYU continued to score in the beginning of the 4th, extending their lead, but the Bears pulled themselves together to produce an amazing performance. Scoring seven straight points on field goals by Brooks and a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Brenna Loftus, the Bears pulled within three. The Bobcats went up by seven with four minutes to go, prompting Henderson to call a timeout. The timeout proved to be critical to the comeback effort, as a minute later, the Bears scored three straight field goals and narrowed the deficit to one. After an NYU free throw with 1:25 to play, Jackson knocked down a massive 3-pointer from the corner to give the Bears the lead 55-54. Free throws for both teams would then see the Bears up 57-56. 

“It was our home court and we wanted to defend it,” said junior guard Christina Walker. “Seeing the deficit cut down was exhilarating.” 

NYU had one last chance when they got the ball back with just four seconds on the clock. However, Erica Miller’s catch and shoot 3-pointer attempt fell short and the Bears and their fans stormed the court in celebration. Walker described the victory as “amazing, as the last two times they played this team were rough.” Following two losses by a combined deficit of 35 points to the Bobcats last year, the Bears demonstrated their improvement as a squad with the huge victory.

The comeback was spearheaded by Brooks and Loftus, who scored a combined 13 of the 19 fourth quarter points. With the win, the Bears found themselves with a 3-0 record to start league play and tied with Rochester for first place in the UAA. 

“Starting the season 3-0 is a reassurance of the talent and skill the team has.” Walker said. “Executing our game plan well and gaining a lot of energy in the second half was a huge part of the victory.” 

The Bears’ momentum took a hit with a tough road loss to Case Western Reserve University the following weekend. After a strong first quarter that saw them take the lead 19-15, they were outscored in the next three quarters and ultimately lost the game by a margin of 10 points. Whenever the Bears seemed to pull close, their efforts were diminished by the impressive performance of Isabella Mills. A senior for Case Western, Mills hit 10 threes and scored 36 points, leading the Spartans to a 74-64 victory over the Bears. On the bright side for WashU, a 20-point double-double by Arnott and 17 points from Brooks kept the game competitive. 

On January 22, the Bears had an opportunity to rebound against the Carnegie Mellon Tartans. After the game was tied 7-7 in the first quarter, the Bears went on a 7-0 run and held their lead for the rest of the half, leading by 13 at the break. Carnegie Mellon bounced back in the third, cutting the lead to three points. The Bears found themselves down 67-66 during a high-scoring fourth quarter, but another 7-0 run gave the Bears enough cushion to eke out a 77-74 victory. 

Following the contest, Walker shouted out the seniors on the team, saying that “we want to give them our best as they are idols to us on and off the court.” 

Maya Arnott works past a defender in an early season game. (Photo by Clara Richards | Student Life)

Henderson echoed Walker’s sentiments, adding that the team has “really leaned heavily on [its] experienced players, and they’ve stepped up in those hard moments to produce.” She also added that the team’s ability to bounce back following early non-conference losses served them well against Carnegie Mellon. 

“Our team has that ability to keep that short-term memory…If you’re toiling too much in the past, you can’t move forward to the future. I feel like our players have really bought into not allowing one game to impact the next game.”

The Bears currently hold a record of 11-5 following a 4-1 start to the UAA season. Up next, they will travel to take on the Rochester Yellowjackets on Friday, January 27th and the Emory Eagles on Sunday, January 29th.

“It’s going to be an extremely challenging weekend,” said Henderson ahead of the matchups. “Emory and Rochester are both really talented teams.” 

Their current 4-1 conference record places them tied for the conference lead alongside UChicago. If the Bears are able to win both of the contests this upcoming weekend, they will solidify their place as legitimate contenders for the UAA crown going into the second half of the conference season. 

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