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After a rocky start to the season, the men’s basketball team shoots into conference play against Wash U at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Ratner Athletics Center.
While the Maroons’ record (3—8) compares unfavorably to that of the Bears (6—4), the squads have played four teams in common, with both collecting two wins and two losses. In fact, against ranked opponents, the Maroons have fared slightly better. They took down then second-ranked and undefeated Illinois Wesleyan on December 4 by a score of 83—75. While the Bears secured a similar victory against IWU two weeks later, they lost by 23 to 24th-ranked Augustana College in November. Meanwhile last Sunday, at home with a double-digit lead and 14:01 left in the game, the Maroons seemed set for a victory against Augustana (now ranked 10th), but a 22—4 Vikings run led to a 56—63 loss.
“Augustana was probably the best team we’ve faced all year, and we played them really well for the majority of the game,” said third-year Matt Johnson, the team’s leading scorer and distributer with 14.7 points and 3.9 assists per game. “One characteristic of our team this year has been playing to the level of our opponent, which can be both a strength and a weakness. Unlike our game versus another very good opponent, Illinois Wesleyan, we gave up a double-digit lead and allowed Augustana to come back and win.”
Building off the strong showing against Augustana, coach Mike McGrath hopes that a victory over Wash U can ignite a title charge.
“Wash U is a very good team, and we will have to execute in all phases to beat them, but we realize that this is the start of the race for a UAA Championship. The UAA race is hard to determine at this point, as our teams play so many different non-conference opponents, but I suspect that the league will once again be highly competitive.”
Johnson also has high hopes for the Maroons’ UAA showing, starting with the rivalry game tomorrow.
“We see the UAA season as a fresh start, and an opportunity to compete for a championship and a tournament bid,” he said. “Wash U is always a unique game because we have a whole week to prepare for them. A fair amount of our ‘Wash Week’ is spent learning their plays and ways we can take advantage of what they do. Even though they graduated several key players last year, they have retooled quickly. Some of their upperclassmen are very effective offensively, and their whole team is great on defense. We expect to play them hard and are looking forward to a great atmosphere at home.”