March basketball is near and CMU is playing like it
Feb. 14, 2018, 374 days ago.
Heading into that day, the Central Michigan women's basketball team hadn't lost in weeks. They were riding a 12-game winning streak and the victories were convincing.
However, on that Wednesday in Buffalo, New York, the Chippewas were stopped in their tracks.
CMU fell 85-82 to the Bulls and for the first time in nearly two months left a game with that gut-check feeling of a losing effort.
This season, CMU (20-6, 11-3 MAC) has taken even more lumps earlier in Mid-American Conference portion of the campaign.
The Chippewas lost twice in January to MAC foes and, like a season ago, have dropped a contest in February.
However after that loss to UB in 2017-18, CMU won 10 games in a row until its season ended against Oregon in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.
After today's 76-52 victory against Northern Illinois (16-10, 8-6) at McGuirk Arena, the Chippewas have won four straight.
The calendar is creeping towards March, and there seems to be a trend here.
"You guys all know it, you're suppose to be playing your best basketball come March," said head coach Sue Guevara. "The rewards will come, just stay patient, it's coming."
It's not to say CMU doesn't bring the effort equally to every game on its schedule. Statistically though, these games start to matter more depending on the circumstances of the standings and MAC Tournament positioning.
Coming into the game with the Huskies, the Chippewas were ahead of NIU by two games in the MAC West Division.
Seniors Presley Hudson and Reyna Frost scored the first 26-of-28 points in the game. It's their last chance to leave a mark at CMU and its no secret to them that the severity of these games are higher.
In the second half, the guard and forward tandem kept getting stronger. Whether it was a no-look pass in tight windows from Hudson to Frost or both players draining triples, they took complete control of the game.
Frost (39) and Hudson (17) finished with a combined 56 points. Frost also added 13 rebounds for her 23rd double-double. Hudson pitched in seven assists and boards with her points.
"There is no substitute for experience and right now you are seeing the consistency they have," Guevara said. "Right now, our team is benefiting from it."
With every bucket from the seniors, McGuirk Arena got louder but the celebration was limited from both. They got back to play defense and both kept a scowl on their face.
With just over a minute left in the game, Frost got back-to-back steals and scores from the half court logo. CMU was up by 20 points. Frost didn't let off the gas pedal.
Their body language made it clear, big leads isn't the main concern. Dominating their opponents is.
"There was like three or four minutes left and we had a really dull moment where we weren't getting stops and coach (Guevara) called a timeout," Frost said. "I wanted to make sure we still played with energy so I was just trying to play hard because the game wasn't over."
In the Chippewas last four wins, they averaged 88.7 points. On the season, they are averaging 79.8 points per game. On top of that, in the three of the last four wins CMU has won by double figures.
CMU isn't just playing better, its controlling the teams they play against.
"Every team is going to give us their best game and we have to keep getting better," Frost said. "We're really understanding what we need to get better at and were not taking anyone lightly.
"We want to be the team throwing the first punch."
Coming with this win streak is a more commanding conference lead with less games remaining on the schedule. CMU now leads the Huskies by three games in the MAC West and only four games remain in the regular season.
Frost knows it. Guevara knows it. CMU's team knows it.
The level of urgency is getting higher as the postseason inches closer and this team has goals to move past where they were a season ago.
It's time for complete focus.
"It's never over until the game is over," Frost said. "Anyone can beat you in this conference, right now we can't let anyone beat us."