After pulling off an incredible upset against #22 Wash U (19–5, 9–4 UAA) on January 5—when the Bears were ranked #5 in the country—the Maroons (11–13, 5–8) get set to take on their rivals once more this Saturday.
In the first matchup, Chicago had home court advantage. This time, they’ll be playing in St. Louis.
The lead changed hands several times during that first meeting, but Chicago finished the first half on top, 32–27. In the second half, a run of big plays from third-year forward Charlie Hughes and first-year guard Jordan Smith left the Maroons up by a score of 50–38. Chicago never lost that lead again.
Going seven for 10 from the free throw line down the stretch—including six successful attempts from second-year point guard Royce Muskeyvalley—the Maroons pulled out a 68–60 win.
The game, as is so often the case, was won and lost on the boards. Wash U entered the contest leading the nation in rebound differential (+17.2 per game), but Chicago outrebounded the Bears 41–35.
The Maroons also shot well, sinking 42.9 percent from three-point land, an area of inconsistency for Chicago this season.
The Maroons did everything necessary to beat the Bears in January, and they had the luxury of playing on their home court. To claim a road victory on Saturday, Chicago has to play even better. Head coach Mike McGrath thinks the same focuses will be key.
“We will have to be strong on the boards like the first time and challenge them inside,” he said. “Rebounding will certainly be a key.”
Last weekend, the Maroons lost to Brandeis and then came out victorious against NYU. McGrath hopes to see the same attitude his players took into the NYU game on the court this weekend.
“I could tell the guys felt frustrated about the season not going as well as we’d hoped, and against NYU, the guys let it go a bit,” McGrath said. “I hope to have them play like that again.”
The odds are certainly stacked against the Maroons this weekend. They are playing the second-best team in the UAA, a team looking for vengeance against them, and they are playing on the road. But as exceptional as these circumstances are, their preparation will not change.
“We always try to get better every day and every game, and that won’t change,” McGrath said. “We also have to realize how lucky we are and just enjoy the opportunity we have to play at the University of Chicago.”
The Maroons will need players like Muskeyvalley (14 points and 3 assists in the first meeting) and Hughes (averaging 9.4 points and 5.0 rebounds per game) to perform at their best, along with veteran leadership from lone fourth-year Matt MacKenzie.
McGrath is confident MacKenzie’s play will not be affected by the idea of playing his final college game.
“He’ll certainly think about it because it’s significant for him, but I don’t think it’ll change his approach,” McGrath said.
Though it won’t be an easy matchup for the Maroons, if they shoot well and handle their business on the glass, Chicago is capable of making it two upsets out of two.
Tip-off against the Bears is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday in St. Louis.