Guevara credits defense in tournament run
Women’s basketball has been strong all season long on offense.
But it was the aggressive defense the team displayed during the Mid-American Conference tournament that propelled the team to win the title and claim a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Sue Guevara said she was happy with the way her team was able to adjust defensively throughout the week and the ability to be effective in the tournament.
“We played a lot of zone for two games,” she said. “We started out in the zone and trapping (Saturday) … we switched to our switching man-to-man, and it was effective.”
Whether it was forcing turnovers, getting steals at crucial times or playing with a determined focus in not allowing opponents to feel comfortable in their offense, the defense showed up come MAC tournament time.
That strong defense allowed its tournament opponents an average of 59 points, including holding Bowling Green to 48 points in Thursday’s quarterfinal game.
During three games at Quicken Loans Arena, the Chippewas forced their opponents into 64 turnovers, an average of 21 per game, while scoring 45 points off those turnovers. The Falcons had 34 turnovers in the 81-48 victory.
Guevara said the team’s defensive effort was a combination of different players stepping up the last three days of the tournament.
“I just can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of our team,” Guevara said. “With the defense that they have displayed for the last three days, we talked about this, but defense, free-throws and keeping their composure was going to win this tournament, and our team did it. It wasn’t one player; it was our team that won this tournament for us.”
Rebounding was key throughout the tournament, as offensive boards helped CMU to get extra scoring chances inside, and it took advantage.
Building a championship culture is important, and Guevara said that building that culture all starts with rebounding the basketball and being physical on the glass.
“We know that rebounding wins championships and offensive rebounds; I thought in the first half there were some keys times where we were able to go get it and also in the second half,” Guevara said. “When you don’t knock down the shot, you better make darn sure the other team doesn’t.”
The Chippewas scored 76 points in the paint in the three tournament games, thanks to a strong effort on the offensive glass with 33 rebounds in the tournament.
Senior forward Jessica Schroll said the team came together more on the defensive end in the tournament.
“Defense is all about energy. If you have more energy than the person you’re guarding, you’re going to do pretty well,” Schroll said. “With this team, in the tournament, we clicked especially, defensively.”
Sophomore guard Crystal Bradford said that with their defense coming on strong when they needed it most, along with the team’s potent offense, she knew they would be hard to stop.
“We have a lot of natural-born scorers on this team, so, when we start defending and playing with each other, the chemistry is just there,” Bradford said. “Getting stops and helping out defensively, it’s just a good feeling that no one can stop.”
Many players contributed to this effort, including sophomore forward Jas’Mine Bracey and senior guard Brandie Baker.
Bracey had her best game of the tournament in the championship game, recording six points to go along with seven rebounds in 22 minutes on the floor.
Guevara credited Bracey with her ability to match up inside with the other team, allowing her to finish strong in the paint.
“Jas’Mine, she goes five-for-five yesterday against Toledo. She didn’t play the first time against Akron,” Guevara said. “Her ability to rebound, but she also finished the whole tournament. She caught it, and she finished it. That was really big.”
Baker was reliable all tournament long on the defensive end. She had 14 points against Akron in the championship game while also bringing down six rebounds, six assists and two steals.
Guevara said she couldn’t begin to explain what Baker has meant to this program and her impact in the tournament.
“I’ve said this about Brandie, but she’s a warrior,” Guevara said. “I mean, I think she played 40 minutes today and she played 40 minutes yesterday. I do not like seeing her sit on the bench. I’m going to have a major adjustment next season without her … she’s the backbone of our program.”
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