The Loyola women’s basketball team (4-2) isn’t the only high-quality Division I women’s basketball team in the city. Chicago is home to a host of other impressive teams ready to challenge Loyola, from the Big 10 to the Big East.
Loyola senior guard Janae Gonzales said the team’s goal is to assert their dominance in the city while facing off against other Chicago schools. She said winning against rivals in the city is important for bragging rights and the team’s outlook for the rest of the season.
“Chicago is a basketball city so being able to play and rotate between schools [can] showcase Chicago talent,” she said. “It not only helps our team, but it helps Chicago basketball, Chicago women’s basketball as a whole.”
DePaul (5-2) has been a consistent powerhouse in Chicago women’s basketball. During head coach Doug Bruno’s 32-year tenure, the Blue Demons are 736-359 (.672), making Bruno the all-time winningest coach in DePaul’s history.
In the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, DePaul was tabbed second in the conference behind the University of Connecticut. The Blue Demons are powered by a high-scoring offense, averaging 84.3 points per game, and a shut-down defense, causing 19.7 turnovers per game while earning 10 steals per game. First-year forward Aneesah Morrow leads the offense with 18.4 points per game while contributing four steals on average.
Loyola head coach Kate Achter said DePaul is a model for the program she seeks to build at Loyola. She said seeing the powerhouse that Bruno has built gives her team tangible goals to try and reach.
“I think it’s just a beacon to chase after,” Achter said. “It’s always really good to have a roadmap of success to follow.”
In his 14th year at Northwestern, head coach Joe McKeown has built a successful program in Evanston. During his tenure, McKeown has led Northwestern to six Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) bids and two NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament appearances.
The Wildcats (4-3) are defined by their dominant possession of the ball and ability to force turnovers. Over their first two games of the season, Northwestern forces an average of 20.6 turnovers per game while picking up 11.7 steals per game. Senior forward Courtney Shaw, who also leads the team with 10.1 rebounds per game, and senior guard Veronica Burton leads the team with four steals on average.
Playing in the Big Ten, a conference with multiple teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Northwestern has the toughest schedule of the Chicago area teams. The Wildcats have to face No. 3 University of Maryland and No. 8 University of Iowa, among others, in conference play.
Achter said Northwestern is physically bigger than DePaul and plays a more controlled style of basketball. She said playing Northwestern shows her team a contrasting style that mirrors teams they will face in the Valley.
“They are a lot bigger across the board, they play a more controlled style of basketball and are really going to force us to execute our own offense instead of playing in chaos,” she said. “That only helps us as we move forward in the Missouri Valley.”
Loyola faced Northwestern Nov. 17 in Evanston, Illinois, falling to the Wildcats 63-47.
University of Illinois Chicago (UIC)
The Flames (1-4) are led by head coach Tasha Pointer, who was previously an assistant coach at Northwestern for one year. During her tenure, UIC is 10-73 while finishing last in the Horizon League twice. UIC is coming off a 3-16 2020 season where they finished second to last in their conference.
Pointer’s team is young, with four first-year players and five sophomores. The Flames have no seniors on the team while only having one graduate student, guard Justice Gee, who transferred from East Carolina University after her senior year.
This season, the Flames are led offensively by sophomore guard and forward Jaida McCloud and sophomore guard Keona Schenck, scoring 14 and 12 points respectively in UIC’s 49-72 loss to Northwestern Nov. 10.
Despite their poor record, Achter said UIC is a much-improved program this season. She said UIC is in the middle of a rebuilding process and is looking to shock its opponents.
“I think UIC will ruffle some feathers and get some wins they really aren’t supposed to,” she said. “It takes time, but I think UIC will be solid.”
Chicago State University (CSU)
Much like UIC, Chicago State (1-6) has struggled in recent years. After former head coach Misty Opat’s two-year stint with a 3-55 record, Tiffany Sardin was tapped as the program’s next head coach prior to the 2020 season. In her first season, the Cougars posted an 0-14 record and finished at the bottom of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) standings.
This season, Sardin’s team isn’t off to a better start. In their first seven games of the season, the Cougars have struggled offensively, averaging 53.3 points per game while shooting 32% from the field. CSU’s defense is also in poor shape, giving up 72.3 points per game while allowing 38.3 rebounds per game.
Sardin was able to bring in eight newcomers this season, with two first-year players and six transfers, including graduate guard Jazmine Covington who played at Loyola her junior year. First-year guard Aaliyah Collins has already made an impact early in the season, averaging 15.6 points per game while shooting 46% from the floor.
Loyola faced Chicago State Nov. 20 at Gentile Arena, winning 71-59. After the Cougars’ loss to Loyola, Chicago State beat the University of Wisconsin-Madison 71-63 Nov. 22, securing their first win since Jan. 18, 2020.
After facing their Chicago area rivals early in the season, the Ramblers are set to travel to Hanover, New Hampshire to face Dartmouth College Dec. 3. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. and the game is set to be broadcast on ESPN+.