'Now it counts': Women's basketball opens regular season against Oakland
Sue Guevara is in her 39th year of basketball, and she still gets goosebumps prior to the first game of the regular season.
She has checked the Maroon & Gold Scrimmage, NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 ring ceremony, the exhibition against Northwood and countless hours of practice off her preseason to do list.
Now it counts.
The Central Michigan women's basketball team opens the 2018-19 season against Oakland at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 at McGuirk Arena. Prior to the game, the Chippewas will raise a banner inside the arena to commemorate the successes in the 2017-18 season.
"The exhibition was a quiz, now it's a test," Guevara said. "We have all these tests are going to lead up to the final exam, which is Louisville in the nonconference. Then, we start over again."
In CMU's 74-61 win against Northwood on Nov. 1, senior forward Reyna Frost registered a double-double, just as she averaged a season ago, with 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Senior guard Presley Hudson dished out eight assists while compiling 15 points, but she wasn't satisfied with the overall performance.
“Wasn’t pretty,” Hudson said of the exhibition. “We are going to focus on getting better and improving. We need to get better.”
One player who emerged against the Timberwolves was freshman center Jahari Smith, tasked with the duty of replacing Tinara Moore. Currently playing basketball professionally, Moore averaged 19.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last campaign.
Smith scored 15 points and pulled down six rebounds in her first CMU start. Guevara said the freshman was the most positive feature of the exhibition. Other concrete facets included running the floor well and finding open shots.
"Shooters have to shoot," Guevara said. "We need to be better at free throw shooting. 66 percent free throw shooting does not win championships. Above 80, that wins championships."
Expect to see a starting five of Hudson, Frost, Smith, sophomore guard Micaela Kelly and junior Gabrielle Bird. In the exhibition, the first two players off Guevara's bench were sophomores – guard Maddy Watters and forward Kyra Bussell.
"I'm so focused on what our team looks like," Guevara said. "I love the competition I'm in my 19th year as a head coach, and I still get excited to play."
South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Virginia, Quinnipiac, No. 5 Louisville and No. 25 Miami (Fla.) all played in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Another commodity those schools share is they will play CMU in the nonconference.
"Our kids come here to play good competition," Guevara said. "That's one of the knocks against mid-majors. We have the players I feel can compete and want to compete. Our nonconference, regardless of how we come out, doesn't matter. This schedule gets us ready for January, February and March.
"It's all about March."
Oakland opened its season on Nov. 6 against Grace Christian, logging a 94-48 victory at the O'rena in Rochester Hills.
The Golden Grizzlies finished the 2017-18 season with a 15-16 overall record and 7-11 mark in the Horizon League.
Oakland coach Jeff Tungate is attempting to replace four of the team's top-five scorers – Sha'Keya Graves (12.5 points per game), Taylor Gleason (11.7 ppg), Leah Somerfield (11.2 ppg) and Cierra Bond (10.5 ppg). Another key part to last season's team was defensive specialist Korrin Taylor, who departed to graduation.
In an attempt to fill the void, senior Alabama transfer Lekaysha Stennis will play her final year of eligibility after sitting out last season. Tungate brought in five new freshmen in guards Brianna Breedy, Kahlaijah Dean, Teneea Heston, Victoria Oglesby and forward Kayla Lunchenbach.
Senior and two-time Horizon League Sixth Player of the Year winning Taylor Jones is the top returner. A year ago, she came off the bench and ranked third on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game, good for 19th in the Horizon League.
Amidst all Horizon League teams, Oakland led the way in 3-point field goal percentage (34.6), ranked second in scoring (70.4 ppg), assists (14.6 apg) and 3-point field goals made (7.6). On the defensive side of the ball, the Golden Grizzlies pulled away an astronomical 10.6 steals per game.
Oakland, in its win against Grace Christian, was anchored by Jones with 26 points, six rebounds and nine assists on 10-of-17 shooting from the field. Chloe Guingrich chipped in 16 points and seven rebounds.
Raising the Banner
In the 2017-18 season, CMU made a historic run – through the regular season, MAC play, MAC Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
Guevara paced the Chippewas to a Sweet 16 appearance by topping No. 6 LSU in the first round, 78-69, and No. 2 Ohio State in the second round, 95-78. CMU fell to No. 2 Oregon in the Sweet 16, 83-69.
Playing in the MAC Tournament title at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, CMU secured an automatic bid to the Big Dance with a 96-91 victory over Buffalo in the championship game. The MAC Tournament journey forced the Chippewas to get through Eastern Michigan, Miami (Ohio) and Buffalo.
The Chippewas finished the 2017-18 season with a 30-5 overall record and 17-1 mark in the conference, losing just once to Buffalo in the regular season. For its success last season, CMU will be commemorated prior to playing Oakland with a banner at McGuirk Arena.
"I'm excited," Guevara said. "You'll walk into McGuirk and the Sweet 16 banner will be hanging there. For people and recruits coming in, that's going to be really cool.
"But it's in the rear-view mirror. It's over. If you want to get anything close to that, stop looking at it."