No. 14 men’s basketball tied for UAA lead after thrilling 2-1 start

| Managing Sports Editor

Sophomore Yogi Oliff had a double-double in the win over Rochester. (Riley Herron|Student Life)

With 33 seconds left on the clock in the first game of the 2024 University Athletic Association (UAA) season, junior Hayden Doyle leapt into the air, unleashing a shot from behind the three-point arc. When it hit the net, his shot gave the Washington University men’s basketball team a narrow 68-67 lead over its rivals from the University of Chicago. After Chicago’s Eamonn Kenah hit two clutch free throws to give the Maroons a 69-68 edge, the Bears had just 13 seconds to regain the lead. When Doyle charged to the basket, however, his contested layup bounced off the rim, and the Bears found themselves with an 0-1 start to their conference campaign.

Eight days later, Doyle and the Bears found themselves in another scintillating UAA contest. This time, the Bears, who had taken down No. 22 Emory two days prior, were facing the University of Rochester, the only team to have won its first two UAA games. With four seconds remaining in overtime and WashU leading by one, the ball found its way to Doyle’s man, Yellowjackets guard Malachi Moore.

“We just had to get a stop, simple as that. They were gonna get the last shot,” Doyle said after the game. “I was in the gap and then…they kicked it out to the guy that I was guarding. I kind of closed out too fast, took a dribble, and then I just recovered and was able to get a piece of it.”

Doyle, who had slipped and fallen a step behind Moore, launched himself into the air, using every inch of his 6’1” frame to swat the ball out of the hands of Moore and secure an 80-79 victory for the Bears. 

As the Bears have learned in their first three UAA matchups — the one-point loss at Chicago on Jan. 6, four-point victory over Emory on Jan. 12, and one-point overtime win over Rochester on Jan. 14 — every single game in the UAA is likely going to come down to the wire, and eking out wins like their first two certainly will not be an easy task. However, the toughness of each game comes as no surprise to Head Coach Pat Juckem, who is navigating his fifth UAA season with WashU, and Doyle, who is in the midst of his third year.

“That’s not unexpected, just based on the quality of teams. It’s going kind of as we anticipated,” Juckem said after the win over Rochester. “We joke as the UAA coaches that we all know what we’re getting into, where there’s no breather. If you just play okay, you’re gonna probably come out on the wrong side.”

“The conference is great. The special thing about it is that it’s not just that there’s good teams at the top, [but] every team is good,” Doyle added. “I think that’s the hard thing, every night you’re not gonna get a game off. It makes it really fun as a competitor.”

Through three games, the Bears are tied for first place in a wide-open UAA. Out of the eight teams, every single one is either 2-1 or 1-2 in conference play, and four of them are ranked amongst the top 25 teams in the nation. 

The Bears entered UAA play after wrapping up their non-conference schedule with a 72-64 victory over the Wabash Little Giants on Dec. 30. After Wabash entered halftime leading 40-37, the Bears’ defense took over the second half, holding the visitors to just 8/29 (27.6%) shooting from the field. Doyle led the offense with a career-high 28 points while junior forward Drake Kindsvater tallied 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The win put a bow on their non-conference schedule, where the Bears finished 10-1 for the second time in the last three years and entered UAA play on a six-game winning streak. The streak, however, came to an end with the 68-67 loss in Chicago. 

Throughout the second half, neither team could pull away, remaining within three points of each other during the final ten minutes. In the last 60 seconds, the Maroons laid the final blow and held on for their first win over WashU since February 2020. 

“When every [UAA] team is good, you’re gonna lose a couple of close ones. And I thought we played well against Chicago, you know, but they just made one more play than us down the stretch,” Doyle said. 

The duo of Kindsvater (18 points and 7 rebounds) and Doyle (14 points and 4 assists) led the Bears offensive effort in Chicago. The two juniors, both of whom earned Second Team All-UAA nods last season, led the team as reliable scorers, averaging 16.2 and 14.2 points per game, respectively. 

The Bears returned to their home court Friday night looking to add a first mark to their UAA win column. For much of the game, the Bears looked to be in control. Late in the first half, they scored 10 points in a row, including back-to-back three-pointers from sharpshooting junior Kyle Beedon, to establish a 36-25 lead. When the Eagles swooped back in and took a 40-38 lead early in the second half, the Bears pulled away once again. An 18-3 run for WashU put them ahead 56-43 with 13 minutes remaining. 

As the clock wound down, however, the Eagles chipped away at the Bears lead. After his team implemented an effective full-court press to slow down their hosts in the final minutes, Emory’s AJ Harris hit a three to narrow the lead to 83-79 with 1:07 remaining. Despite the furious comeback, the Bears held on for an 85-81 victory. 

Beedon, who shot 6/9 from three off the bench, led the team with 20 points. After playing just 31 minutes and scoring 18 points all of last season, Beedon’s emergence in his junior season has been crucial. Shooting 41.9% from the field and 39.7% from three, Beedon is averaging 16.7 minutes off the bench and 8.2 points per game, and his play has hit its peak during their first three UAA games. Beedon has been the leading contributor off of the Bears bench, but first-years Lucas Vogel and Jake Davis have also been critical. 

“The freshmen and some older guys that didn’t get a chance early in their career have been performing super well,” Doyle said. “So I’m really happy for those guys.”

Two days later against Rochester, the Bears took a 43-35 lead into the halftime break. After both teams went on scoring runs in the second half, a three from Beedon gave WashU a 67-53 lead with seven minutes left. However, like during the Emory game, the Bears gave their visitors a window back into the matchup. Rochester took advantage, making a 17-3 run to tie the game at 70 with one minute left. 

“I thought we had some pretty good shots and didn’t make them. For a time, I thought we stopped running offense, we got a little stagnant,” Juckem said after the game. “One of the themes [of practice] Tuesday is going to be playing when you’re up. When you’ve got that team making their final push at you…we have to make sure that we’re finishing off plays and if they’re scoring, let’s make sure they’re earning it.”

After the teams exchanged points in the final minute, the Bears had one last good look before overtime, but a jumper from sophomore Yogi Oliff rang off the rim as the regulation buzzer sounded. In the five-minute extra period, both teams traded scores, before a jumper by Doyle gave the Bears an 80-77 lead with over a minute remaining. 

After a Rochester layup with seven seconds left brought the score to 80-79, WashU turned the ball over on a five-second violation while inbounding, giving the Yellowjackets one final chance to win. However, Doyle, who scored just four points, made the clutch block to seal victory for the Bears.

“I’m just really proud of our guys’ resilience,” Juckem said after the game. “Going to overtime, [Rochester] had a ton of momentum. And for our guys to just keep their composure and their belief in each other, and, you know, make a couple plays in overtime, speaks volumes to them.”

In Sunday’s win, two sophomores were key contributors for the Bears. Center Calvin Kapral scored a career-high 21 points, including 4 in OT, while Oliff added an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double.

After the win put them at 2-1 in conference play, the Bears, who finished one game away from the conference title last year, are tied for the lead three games in. Next week, they will travel to face No. 13 New York University (NYU) and Brandeis University. The game at NYU will bring the Bears back to where they started their season, when they defeated No. 11 Swarthmore College and No. 12 Johns Hopkins University in the Scholars Classic hosted at NYU. 

After winning both games in their second weekend of conference play, the Bears will have a week of practice to prepare for the next leg in the marathon of UAA play. While the finish line is the end goal, Juckem’s team is locked in on the sprint ahead of it.

“There’s just a collection of eight really good teams,” the coach said. “You know it’s a 14-game eight-week race, but you have to be really in the moment and just focus on the task at hand.”

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