After an impressive offensive showing in a 92-71 win against Case Western Reserve University Friday night at the Palestra, the UR women’s basketball team suffered a setback on Sunday when they dropped a 59-56 decision to Emory University, snapping an eight-game home winning streak. This weekend’s two-game split left the ‘Jackets – who currently hold onto a 9-4 conference and 19-5 overall record – one game behind conference leaders University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, who will meet in Chicago on Saturday for the University Athletic Association title.

With the NCAA tournament selections being released on March 3, it would be easy to look ahead, but UR still has work to be done in the regular season. This Saturday, the women will conclude their season at Carnegie Mellon University – a pesky foe, despite sitting in last place in the UAA.

“Before we can even look ahead to the tournament, we need to take care of our business for this upcoming weekend,” senior forward Jessica Waddell said. “We need to focus on closing out the regular season strong.”

With a win at CMU this weekend, Waddell and her teammates could do exactly that.

A victory would give UR its 20th of the season and improve the team’s prospects of not only a tournament birth, but also receiving a high seed in the NCAA tournament, which begins on March 5.

This past Friday’s game against Case was certainly a bright spot on the season. Junior guard Helen Baroody scored a career-high 20 points, leading the scoring for the ‘Jackets. The team’s 92 points marked the first time this season it has eclipsed the 90-point mark. In addition to Baroody, UR had three other players in double figures.

Junior forward Alex Porter’s 16 points highlighted an impressive all-around performance that included six rebounds, four assists and five steals.

Waddell also had a solid night, earning a double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. It was her second double-double this season. Freshman center Courtney Donovan was the fourth Yellowjacket with a double-digit point total; she had four rebounds and two blocks to go along with her 10 points.

The ‘Jackets were also anchored by the strong play of junior guard Johanna McNelis – her shut-down defense, combined with eight points, including two of three from beyond the 3-point line, was crucial to UR’s success.

The 71 points scored by visiting Case Western was no small total either. The women from Case attempted an astounding 31 3-point shots, but connected on only 12. The 12 3-balls were only one shy of the Palestra’s single-game record that was set by the ‘Jackets in a 2006 home playoff game. Case fell to 11-12 overall and 4-8 in the UAA.

On Sunday against Emory, the points did not come as easily for the Yellowjackets. The win was Emory’s first at the Palestra in seven years. Junior guard Erica Kaplan, junior forward Lora Turner and sophomore guard LeShonda Lillard led the Eagles to victory, scoring 16, 12 and 10 points,

respectively. The game was tight from start to finish with quick, high-scoring runs by each team offsetting one another in the first half. In the second half, the game was so close that the score was tied six times.

For the ‘Jackets, Baroody again led the scoring, netting 12 points and three blocks. Porter was just shy of a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Junior forward Julie Marriott – the team’s leading scorer at this point in the season – had seven points to go with her impressive 12 boards.

Baroody has played exceptionally well in the past three games. Averaging a little over 15 points per game in the past three, she was instrumental in UR’s two wins these past two weekends.

Even with a loss, the team played two solid games this weekend and is starting to mesh well, something that will be critical come tournament time.

“With both games this weekend we came out strong and played together really well,” Waddell said. “On Sunday, Emory made more shots than us when it counted.”

The team’s lone senior is optimistic about a potential run in the tournament and feels as if her team has truly matured in the waning weeks of the season.

“We are a young team that had a lot to learn coming into the season, but I feel that we have learned a lot and are ready to do some damage in the tournament,” Waddell said.

As the season winds down, there has been an added emphasis on teamwork. Fortunately for the ‘Jackets, they feel chemistry and camaraderie are already critical parts of their game.

“Every season we start out in the beginning and do a lot of team building and bonding,” McNelis said. “It’s great to see it paying off late in the season.”

The team knows the only way to advance in the NCAA tournament is to play well collectively.

At the beginning of each season, the team puts a lot of emphasis on goal-setting and specific ways to accomplish those goals. Although the team’s goal of winning the UAA may have slipped away last weekend, the ‘Jackets still have plenty of prizes in sight.

“We’re looking forward to learning from our loss so we can bring our ‘A’ game to the tournament,” McNelis said. “We want to get to the final four and, yeah, the national title would be pretty sweet as well.”

UR fell out of the top 25, according to the poll, for the first time since Dec. 2 and hopes to regain some momentum going into the postseason when it plays CMU on Saturday.

The last time the ‘Jackets played Carnegie Mellon, it was at the Palestra, and UR came away with a 65-54 win. Marriott and Baroody both scored in double digits, leading the ‘Jackets in a dominating performance that kicked off the conference schedule.

Last season, the ‘Jackets finished the season 22-6, advancing into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament before losing to Bowdoin College, 63-53. UR will look to mirror, and hopefully surpass, that success this season.

Starr is a member of the class of 2009.

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