Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara feels the Chippewas can make some noise in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament that gets underway this week.
And, for good reason. Central Michigan (28-4) has an outstanding perimeter shooting team, along with a strong inside punch in MAC Player of the Year, 6-foot-3 senior Tinara Moore (18.7 points, 9.8 rebounds) and 6-0 junior Reyna Frost (14.1 points, 11.8 rebounds) who was named MAC tournament MVP after helping the Chippewas defeat Buffalo, 96-91, in the MAC tourney title game Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
In fact, Central — which averages 82.5 points — will enter the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak, winning 20 of its last 21 games.
“We’ve got a good inside-outside game and I think our bench is getting better and even if it’s just in spurts for five minutes, four minutes, three minutes,” said Guevara, 63, who guided Michigan to three NCAA Tournament appearances (1998, 2000, ’01) and now the Chippewas to their second in her 11 seasons at Central, the previous one coming in 2013. “I tell them never underestimate the value you have on this team because you never know when your name is going to be called and they answered the bell.”
Yes, Central’s subs gave the Chippewas valuable minutes when called upon, including a 3-pointer by freshman Maddy Watters to give them a 37-32 lead with 3:20 left in the half after Buffalo was making a comeback.
The Chippewas made 11-of-22 3-pointers against Buffalo, which entered the game ranked fourth nationally in defending the deep shot. They set the tempo by making 6-of-12 in the opening quarter to take a 26-14 lead with junior guard Presley Hudson scoring 11, making three 3-pointers to set the tempo and Cassie Breen scoring eight with two 3-pointers.
“I came into the game confident I can shoot the ball because we all put in the work to be able to shoot that 3,” Hudson said.
Hudson scored 26, making a 25-footer in the early run.
When asked if she had a limit to her shooting range, Hudson replied: “No, anywhere.”
Hudson averages 18.3 points, making 45 percent of her 3-pointers (116-of-258) and 92.6 percent of her free throws, making 9-of-10 Saturday with 7-of-8 coming after Buffalo made it a two-possession game (86-80) with just under two minutes left.
“I put those situations in my head in practice, kind of like, all right, we’re up 6, got to make these two to just kind of build the lead,” Hudson said.
Breen is averaging 12 points and shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range (81-of-212), including 7-of-14 when she scored 31 in a win over Vanderbilt, and 6-of-12 when she had 22 points in a win over Iowa State.
And, don’t forget redshirt freshman Micaela Kelly, who was leading Detroit King to the Class A state championship game two years ago, scoring 34 in a heartbreaking 67-65 loss to Warren Cousino.
Kelly, a transfer from DePaul, made sure there would be no heartbreak this time around, scoring a career-high 26 points in the MAC title game win, making 5-of-6 3-pointers, including two in the opening minutes of the second half. So, was this Kelly’s best game?
“I feel like there’s still more left, like it’s a package that hasn’t been opened yet,” Kelly said.
And, Guevara can’t wait to open that package to see what’s in store for the Chippewas in the NCAA Tournament.
Women’s Selection Show
When: 7 p.m. Monday
First and second rounds: March 16-19
Notable: Central Michigan earned an automatic bid by winning the Mid-American Conference tournament. Michigan is expected to get an at-large bid.