Defense powers women’s basketball to victories, Bears will face University of Chicago for UAA championship
The last time the Washington University women’s basketball team won the University Athletic Association championship in consecutive years, it won its fifth national title.
By posting two blowout wins this weekend, the Red and Green ensured that they will have the chance to win back-to-back conference titles when they face the University of Chicago for the UAA championship next Saturday at the Field House. Chicago (12-1 in the UAA) leads Wash. U. by a single game with just one remaining on the regular-season schedule.
Behind a stringent defense, the No. 9 Bears (22-2 overall, 11-2 UAA) dismantled No. 11 New York University, 58-46, on Friday and defeated Brandeis University, 64-51, on Sunday at home. After conceding a season-high 76 points last week in a one-point loss to Rochester, the Bears had a renewed focus on defense in this weekend’s games.
“You have to give credit to teams that beat you, but I didn’t feel like we played the way defensively that we’ve been playing all year,” head coach Nancy Fahey said. “So we focused in on our defensive transition, being more responsible for stopping your player and being sound. I mean, I don’t like losing, but if it’s going to happen let’s make it move forward.”
On Friday, the Bears held NYU to a season-low 46 points behind a persistent defensive effort that limited the Violets to 11.8-percent shooting from beyond the arc and 34.7-percent shooting from the field. It was a different story the last time these two teams faced last month, when NYU scored 41 points in just the first half en route to winning 64-58 and handing the Bears their first loss of the season.
“We didn’t play our best the first time [we played them], obviously. We just knew that we had to sharpen our defense…sharpen our guards and stop dribble penetration. Our on-ball screen defense was terrible in the first game, so that was our main focus defensively,” senior guard Maddy Scheppers said.
However, the Red and Green had their own problems knocking down shots on Friday as Wash. U. shot a slightly better 17.6 percent from three-point range and a slightly worse 32.3 percent from the field.
But the Bears made up for it with a 46-41 advantage on the boards and a plus-seven turnover differential. The Red and Green’s pressure forced 19 NYU turnovers, and the Bears pulled down 22 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 26 second-chance points. All of this culminated in Wash. U. taking 16 more shots than NYU.
“We rebounded much better, defensively and offensively, and I think that determined the game,” Scheppers said. “Whenever we win the battle on the boards, we end up winning the game.”
The Bears asserted their dominance in the post early on to build an 18-5 lead, with senior forward Melissa Gilkey scoring nine points and senior center Steph Vukotic contributing five points off the bench. Both sides played the rest of the half relatively evenly, and the Red and Green went into halftime with a comfortable 34-23 lead.
In the second half, Wash. U. maintained its sizable lead and extended it to as much as 19 points with 10:38 remaining, and the Bears coasted to a double-digit victory to earn their second triumph over a ranked opponent this season. Scheppers recorded her fourth double-double of her career with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Gilkey scored a team-high 16 points and pulled down eight boards.
Against Brandeis, Wash. U. followed a similar blueprint on defense to earn another blowout victory. After the Judges bolted out to a 15-6 lead in the first five minutes of the game, the Bears’ steadfast defense shut out Brandeis’ offense for more than nine minutes. The Red and Green took full advantage of the Judges’ scoring drought, and Wash. U. went on an 18-0 run to take a 24-15 lead with under six minutes left in the half. The Bears went into the locker room leading 34-23, with Gilkey accounting for half of the team’s points on 5-of-10 shooting.
Following halftime, the Bears picked up right where they left off and embarked on a 10-2 run to stretch the lead to its largest of the game at 44-25. The Judges couldn’t get any closer than 13 points for the rest of the afternoon, and the Bears secured the 64-51 victory.
Similarly to Friday’s game, the Red and Green held their opponent to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and a paltry 13.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Bears also forced 16 turnovers and enjoyed a 47-39 rebounding edge. Offensively, Gilkey finished with a team-high 23 points along with eight rebounds while junior guard Jordan Thompson added 10 points.
After winning both games this weekend, the Bears will host the University of Chicago on Saturday afternoon with the UAA championship and an automatic NCAA tournament berth on the line. According to Fahey, the Bears won’t need any extra motivation or a rallying cry before Saturday’s game.
“I mean, it’s for the UAA championship. I coach smart kids—they know what’s on the line,” Fahey said.