Chippewas square off against Ball State with top spot up for grabs
Central Michigan is off to another fast start in Mid-American Conference play.
Chasing a fifth-straight West Division title in women's basketball, the Chippewas have started 3-0 after reeling in victories against quality MAC East opponents.
The Chippewas' first divisional opponent, Ball State, comes to town Wednesday night, might be their toughest challenger.
Ball State comes to McGuirk Arena with an 11-4 record on the season and an identical 3-0 mark in the MAC. The Cardinals have victories over Kent State, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan. BSU is led by eighth-year coach Brady Sallee, who holds a 128-98 record with the Cardinals.
On the floor, the Cardinals return three of last season's top four scorers. Junior forward Oshlynn Brown, who led the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game a season ago, is once again the squad's top scorer at 12.9 points in each contest. Senior guard Jasmin Samz is second on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game while sophomore forward Thelma Dis Agustsdottir ranks third with 10.5
As a team, the Cardinals average 68.1 points per contest while the Chippewas score 75.2. Defensively, Ball State ranks at the top of the conference in points allowed with 62.1 points per game while the Chippewas are near the bottom of the MAC, allowing 70.9.
Both Brown and Agustsdottir run the floor well as post players and can handle the ball as well, creating a challenge for the Chippewa frontcourt.
“We really focus on just digging in off of people who aren’t the best shooters," senior forward MacKenna Kelly said. "Really knowing personnel of the other people (helps) so we can get a couple more hands inside to make it harder for them to post up.”
In addition to the frontcourt success, the Cardinals excel in transition. Samz, Agustsdottir and freshman guard Sydney Freeman all shoot above 35% from beyond the arc, emphasizing getting back defensively quickly to limit easy baskets and transition triples.
To stop them, freshman guard Molly Davis noted applying pressure as the key.
“Just pressuring them. Make other players make some plays," she said. "All their players are very tough so it’ll be fun for us.”
However, the Chippewas will be able to counter the strengths of the Cardinals through their talents. Junior guard Micaela Kelly continues to produce at a record pace, her scoring clip of 24.4 points per game ranks second in the country.
The Chippewas will be able to pose a threat inside through the trio of sophomore forward Jahari Smith, junior forward Kyra Bussell and senior forward Gabi Bird. So far this season, Bird has embraced the sixth player role off the bench, scoring in double figures in each of her team's first three conference games.
While facing a stiff challenge on both sides of the court, the Chippewas likely won't stray too far from their usual offensive game plan when they take the floor Wednesday night.
“They’re a very tough team," Davis said. "They throw a lot of different things at us. It’ll be a tough test for us and I’m excited for it.”
The contest between the two top teams in the MAC West is scheduled to tip-off at 7 p.m. Wednesday in McGuirk Arena.