The women’s basketball team reaffirmed its position as No. 1 in the country over winter break, taking down two University Athletic Association opponents ranked in the top 25 of d3hoops.com’s national poll. In a stretch of away games beginning on Jan. 6, UR defeated six teams, bringing its record to 14-0. This culminated in a Chase Tournament victory the Yellowjackets’ fourth-consecutive and sixth in the past seven years.
According to head coach Jim Scheible, UR’s best asset is keeping the opposing team from scoring.
‘Our greatest strength is our ability to play a very solid team defense,” Scheible said.
The Yellowjackets’ tenacious defense shines on the court, as UR’s women are often heard vocally harassing their opponents to do something with the ball and seen applying severe pressure. As a result, UR averages 11.8 steals per game, led by senior forward Alex Porter, who has an average of 3.6 per game.
This defense played a key role in UR’s win over Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. on Jan. 9. The ‘Jackets’ 66-62 win over the then No. 5-ranked Judges was their first road win against Brandeis since the 2001 season.
‘[Sophomore guard] Melissa Alwardt came up with several big shots down the stretch to help seal the win,” Scheible said. ‘However, a great collective team defensive effort made a huge difference for us.”
The game was a hard-fought back-and-forth battle throughout the first half, and the women entered the locker room tied at 29. UR jumped out to an early lead in the second half, going up by as many as 11 points. Brandeis consistently fought back to come within two points with just under four minutes left in the game. However, Alwardt provided five key points in the following two minutes, giving the ‘Jackets a more confident lead.
Alwardt led the team with 21 points for the day, while freshman forward Jodie Luther netted 10. Porter nabbed 13 rebounds to help UR stay in control of the ball.
Two days later, the Yellowjackets traveled to 13th-ranked New York University. Their 65-55 win over the Violets was a true team effort, with four players scoring points in the double digits.
Despite getting behind early, UR caught up quickly and remained even with New York University for much of the first half before finally jumping ahead to a 37-29 lead at halftime. In the second half, the ‘Jackets never looked back, easily winning the game. Sophomore guard Ariel Evans came up big off the bench, scoring 14 points and amassing five rebounds and four steals.
The following week, the Yellowjackets defeated Keuka College, SUNY Brockport and St. John Fisher College to take the Chase Tournament title.
‘[Winning] is always special, because the tournament is important in the area,” Scheible said. ‘I think our team takes great pride in playing very well at the Chase Tournament.”
On Jan. 13, UR defeated Keuka handedly, 71-47, with points coming from 13 different players.
Senior forward Julie Marriott led the team with a double-double, netting 13 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Freshman forward Kate Agan scored nine points off the bench in just eight minutes of play.
On Friday night, the ‘Jackets faced off against Brockport and again won easily, 70-45. Porter had a big night with 12 points and nine rebounds, and Luther nearly echoed it with 10 points and nine rebounds.
In the championship matchup against St. John Fisher, the Cardinals put up a fight. Although UR held the lead throughout the first half, Fisher managed to tie the score a few times and stayed within seven. UR pulled away in the second half, however, and came away with a 56-42 win.
Porter’s double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds, coupled with four steals in the game, propelled her to the honor of tournament MVP. She currently averages 9.1 points per game. Marriott, who scored 14 points against the Cardinals, and Alwardt, who scored nine, were named to the All-Tournament First Team.
UR maintained its position as first in the d3hoops.com poll, now for the fifth week in a row.
‘It gives you confidence as a team that you can play at a high level consistently,” Scheible said. ‘No team gets ranked No. 1 without having proved themselves on a good level.”
There is some added pressure to being the top dog, though.
‘A drawback could be that you get everybody’s best shot,” Scheible said. ‘However, if you embrace the challenge that it provides, it makes you better.”
From here on out, the ‘Jackets will only face UAA competitors.
‘We have to be ready to play every game because there are no easy ones in the UAA,” Scheible said. ‘[It’s] the old clich of one at a time.”
This weekend, the Yellowjackets will play Washington University in St. Louis on Friday night at 6 p.m. and Chicago University on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Wash U is currently second in the UAA with an undefeated record in conference play and an 11-3 record overall. They are also ranked No. 23 in the d3hoops.com poll. The Bears have been seasonal rivals with the Yellowjackets.
Chicago is fourth in the UAA, also with an 11-3 overall record and is in the ‘others receiving votes” category of the d3hoops.com top 25.
‘Wash U is playing incredible basketball right now and we always have tremendous battles with Chicago,” Scheible said. ‘Fans will see two very intense games if they come out to see us play.”