Men’s basketball continues strong play with wins against NYU, Brandeis

| Senior Sports Editor

In what could have been a trap weekend series, the surging Washington University men’s basketball team exorcised its demons, continuing its remarkably consistent level of play with a pair of smooth 89-72 and 88-61 victories over New York University and Brandeis University, respectively.

The wins come in stark contrast to a year ago, when the Violets and Judges also made a stop in St. Louis. That weekend, NYU and Brandeis handed the Bears back-to-back single-score losses that snowballed into a season-altering, six-game losing streak. The skid was enough to push Wash. U. out of the playoffs for the first time in six years. Four of those losses came by a single score and bore the hallmarks of an unranked young team that was almost ready to assert itself. What a difference a year makes.

Junior Kevin Kucera works his way down the court during a game against UC Santa Cruz on Dec. 2. The Bears defeated New York University and Brandeis University this weekend.

Junior Kevin Kucera works his way down the court during a game against UC Santa Cruz on Dec. 2. The Bears defeated New York University and Brandeis University this weekend.

An upset victory over No. 3 University of Rochester last week vaulted the Bears to No. 11 in the country, while their pair of victories over NYU and Brandeis extend their current winning streak to seven games.

But last year’s Bears also had healthy winning streaks. What’s more important than that—or their sparkling 5-0 conference record—is their current level of consistency. The Bears have shot over 42 percent from the floor in each of the past 10 games, eclipsing the 50 percent mark five times. No one player has driven this stretch. Instead, six different Bears have lead the team in scoring over that span. That diversity was on full display Friday night against NYU when six players scored in double figures. Senior guard Michael Bregman was the only starter who didn’t. Two days later, he and junior guard Jake Knupp led the team against Brandeis with 17 apiece.

“It says a lot about their unselfishness,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “They’re looking to play with each other and get the best shots they’re going to get.”

Wash. U. currently averages 20 assists per game, the third-best mark in Division III.

NYU entered Friday night’s game having lost five of their last six. That didn’t stop the Violets from outshooting and outrebounding the Bears in the first half.

“In this league, there are no bottom feeders—anybody can beat anybody,” Edwards said.

At the half, the Violets shot 46 percent from the field and led the Bears by one.

Edwards pointed to an inability to finish on defense as the main culprit for the deficit.

“You could play 20 seconds of good defense, and all it takes is one second for a guy to go back board and get a layup,” Edwards said. “They were very aggressive with us, and we didn’t respond well until the second half.”

It didn’t help that junior forward Andrew Sanders picked up two fouls in the first three minutes of play, relegating him to the bench for the rest of the half.

“We were a bit short on subs into the bench,” junior forward Matt Highsmith said. “You could tell the guys were tired.”

A re-energized defense allowed the Bears to pull away in the second half. Knotted at 55 with just under 12 minutes left to play, a layup by senior forward Clinton Hooks sparked a 11-0 run that put Wash. U. up for good. During that stretch, the Bears came away with four steals, three of them by junior point guard Kevin Kucera, who finished with five on the night, in addition to a team-high 14 points.

The Bears also dominated inside play in the second half, out rebounding the Violets 22-12 and taking more than twice as many free throw attempts.

“If you make them, it’s a big advantage,” Edwards said, referring to the Bears’ chances at the charity stripe. The Bears generally struggle from the line, shooting 66.3 percent this season; however, in the second half against NYU, they connected on 13 of 16 attempts.

In addition to Kucera, Hooks, Sanders, Knupp, Highsmith and junior center David Schmelter all finished with double-digit points.

Two days later, the Bears led from wire-to-wire while completely dominating Brandeis. Riding the strong guard play of Knupp and Bregman, who combined for 34 points, the Bears shot over 50 percent from the field.

Wash. U. will look to continue its momentum on the road next weekend, as they head east to visit Carnegie Mellon University and Case Western Reserve University.

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