Talented Central Michigan women fly under radar
Mount Pleasant – While Michigan is enjoying its best start in women’s basketball history, former Wolverines head coach Sue Guevara is in the midst of an outstanding season of her own in guiding Central Michigan to an unbeaten record in Mid-American Conference play.
No, CMU isn’t in the Associated Press top-25 like Michigan is at No. 13, but the Chippewas are still having a strong season (16-3, 8-0 MAC), including wins over past Power Five powers in Iowa State (81-60) and Vanderbilt (92-75).
Many women’s basketball fans will remember Guevara for turning Michigan’s program around in the late ’90s, replacing Trish Roberts who went 20-88 (5-63 Big Ten) in four years from 1992-96.
Guevara raised the bar at Michigan, going 15-11 in her first season (1996-97) with more Big Ten wins (7-9) than the previous four years combined. She was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2000, led the Wolverines to three NCAA tournament appearances (1998, 2000, ’01) and had them ranked as high as No. 12 during that period before departing after the 2003 season with most wins (123) in school history, a record that remained until Kim Barnes Arico shattered the mark earlier this season.
Now, Guevara, 63, has the Chippewas flying under the radar, but a dangerous team should it win the MAC tournament and play in the NCAA tournament.
Guevara, who is in her 11th season at CMU, last had the Chippewas in the Big Dance in 2013 when Crystal Bradford scored 36 in a 78-73 loss to Oklahoma.
Guevara has a lot of talent on this year’s squad, an experienced group with 6-foot-3 senior Tinara Moore (Southgate), senior guard Cassie Breen (Woodhaven), 6-0 junior forward Reyna Frost and junior guard Presley Hudson playing three years together.
CMU, which has an RPI of 36, will play host to Buffalo (16-3, 7-1 East) Wednesday night. The Chippewas rank 15th nationally in scoring (82.6) and are shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, making just under 10 long-range shot a game.
“It’s hard to guard us because we have me and Cassie from the outside and then Micaela is starting to attack and take the open shots and that makes us more of a threat because once she starts driving then they have to help, and then you got Tinara and Reyna, our bigs down low, they are just great players who are able to finish,” pointed out Hudson who was a first-team All-MAC player a year ago when she averaged 16.8 points and made 85 3-pointers.
“We just know where each are and know what we’re capable of. We’re just able to play with each other and have fun.”
And, the Chips entered the season with added motivation after winning the MAC regular-season title last year before a first-round exit in the conference tournament to rival Western Michigan.
“We lost our first game in the MAC tournament last year and that’s a big motivator, made us just improve more to get ready for this season,” Hudson said.
Well, the Chippewas avenged that MAC tournament first-round loss by battling back from a seven-point deficit (67-60) with 2 1-2 minutes left Saturday at McGuirk Arena to defeat WMU, 74-70.
Moore showed why she earned first-team All-MAC honors last season by scoring four during the game-ending 14-3 run and blocking a pair of shots after Breen made a 3-pointer for a 69-68 lead with 53 seconds left.
Breen struggled all game, but showed her deep-threat ability that helped her score 31 (7-of-14 3s) in the win over Vanderbilt and 22 (6-of-12 3s) against Iowa State.
Frost, a Physics major, is the nation’s seventh leading rebounder (12.3), also averaging 14.2 points and shooting 52 percent from the field. And, she is just the third leading scorer on the team.
Hudson is averaging 17.9 points and is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range (69-of-157) and Moore is averaging 17.8 points and 9.1 rebounds. Breen is averaging 12.4 points and Kelly, 11 points.
“Obviously, we have a lot of different leading scorers and it’s really hard for teams to guard us because anybody can go off on any given night so it’s great to be a part of this team,” Frost said. “I’m a hustle player, look to get rebounds and steals, trying to score more this year too. A lot of teams understand that I’m a good rebounder, but I think the pursuit of the ball is the biggest part, just hustling after the ball is what I do.”
Guevara feels having Kelly on the court has given the Chippewas the ability to take the next step and possibly reach another NCAA tournament appearance. Kelly - who scored 34 for Detroit King in a 67-65 Class A state championship game loss to Warren Cousino in 2016 - transferred from DePaul last year and had to sit out.
CMU has had four different players lead them in scoring in the last five games and Hudson hasn’t been one of them. Kelly scored 19 and had five assists in the win over WMU with Hudson contributing 18 points (4-of-6 3-pointers), Moore, 17, including 2-of-3 3-pointers with the Chippewas knocking down 9-of-19 3s.
“She was the missing piece that we didn’t have last year,” said Guevara of Kelly. “She helps take a lot of the pressure off the press because she can bring the ball up the floor. She knows how to deliver the ball so I think those two (Kelly, Hudson) playing together, I think that’s a tough combination. Presley is always going to get the other team’s best defender, and she should, but now you have Twin (Kelly) who is going to be able to beat people and shoot the ball with confidence and D up. She’s a spark plug.
“And, another thing she (Kelly) does is calm me down. She’ll always grab my hand, put her arm around me, and say, ‘Coach, how do you feel? Coach, things will be OK.’ How do you yell at somebody like that?”
Yes, things are going well for Guevara in Mount Pleasant, and don’t be surprised if you find her once again coaching in the NCAA Tournament come March.