New Season, Same Expectations: Women’s basketball to lean on fast-paced, 3-point offense again in 2018

Senior forward Reyna Frost walks onto the court to receive her ring on Oct. 20 at McGuirk Arena.

Sue Guevara was 6-23 and recorded a last-place finish in the Mid-American Conference West Division in her first year on the job.

Ten seasons later, Guevara was 30-5. She raised MAC regular season and postseason championship while making a run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in Central Michigan's 2017-18.

Some of Guevara’s success stems from a tenacious defense and a high-tempo, 3-point offense – thanks to the Phoenix Suns. 

One year after Guevara got her start with the Chippewas, assistant Bill Ferrara joined. He peered closely at the NBA, specifically Mike D’Antoni’s offense for the 2008-09 Phoenix Suns team. Phoenix put four pure shooters on the floor – Steve Nash, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson and Matt Barnes – with center Shaquille O’Neal. 

“(Farah) brought that to me, and we studied it,” Guevara said. “All the sudden, you have to have players. If four of them can hit threes, why not five?”

Due to D’Antoni’s strategy at the NBA level, Guevara started using a dribble drive system. The offense spread players in the half court, and CMU’s team was called upon to drive the lane, allow the defense to collapse and kick the ball out for a 3-pointer.

Ferrara's idea of implementing D'Antoni's style worked for Guevara, and she hasn't changed ways since. 

"She's my basketball mom," Ferrara said. "There is no one better in this profession than her at empowering her staff and her players.”

Gearing up for another season, Guevara will keep the same mentality, despite losing top 3-point shooter Cassie Breen to graduation. CMU’s single exhibition game of the 2018-19 season is against Northwood at noon on Nov. 1 at McGuirk Arena.

The regular season opener is against Oakland University at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. Like the exhibition, it is a home game for the Chippewas at McGuirk Arena. 

Guevara’s starting lineup features four 3-point threats in senior guard Presley Hudson, redshirt sophomore guard Micaela Kelly, redshirt junior Gabrielle Bird and senior forward Reyna Frost. 

Freshman Jahari Smith is still working to find her 3-point shot but is the top candidate for the starting center position. Guevara said Smith’s perimeter shooting needs to improve going forward, but the current goal is rebounding and inside scoring.

“For Jahari, (she can) rebound those misses for an offensive put-back,” Guevara said. “She’s a slasher, has good hands and is good around the basket in the paint.” 

In hopes of the ability to go nine players deep, something Guevara was unable to do a season ago, she expects sophomore guard Maddy Watters, sophomore forward Kyra Bussell and freshman guard Anika Weekes to be prepared. 

During the 2017-18 season, Watters and Bussell only entered to give the starters leg rest. Watters averaged 11.4 minutes per game and Bussell received 9.2 – the top two among the entire nine-player bench. 

Along with losing Breen, center Tinara Moore departed to graduation and a professional basketball opportunity for Valencia Basketball Club in Spain. Moore averaged 19.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last season. 

Rather than just one player filling Moore’s role on the team, Guevara said it will be a number of student-athletes, including Frost, Bussell, Smith and freshman forward Samantha Robinson. 

Losing Moore, who won the MAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year awards, hurts, but the Chippewas still feature Hudson and Kelly leading the backcourt. 

Averaging 18.3 points and shooting 43.7 percent from 3-point range, Hudson was named to the All-MAC First Team. Kelly earned All-MAC Freshman Team for logging 11.5 points, 2.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.

“We wouldn’t be here without Coach G,” Hudson said. “She puts in just as much work as we do. I’m not satisfied. I came here wanting to leave my mark.” 

The third returning starter from last season is Frost, who ranked No. 12 in the country in rebounding as a junior. She pulled down 11.8 rebounds while scoring 13.7 points per game. 

“Right now, we are really focused on getting our bench to play more,” Frost said. “We are focused on right now, but we obviously want to win the conference again.”

Most recently, the Chippewas played the University of Michigan in an Oct. 27 closed scrimmage at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. Back in 2017, CMU lost. Due to NCAA rules, Guevara was unable to report the score or any statistics.

Guevara said, along with getting looks of different rotations, that Team 51 needs to make improvements for the 2018-19 season. Prior to the scrimmage, Guevara noted Michigan’s size, athleticism, 3-point shooting ability and post play as a challenge. 

“It was nice for us to play someone else,” Guevara said of playing Michigan. “There’s lots of stuff to work on. Lots of stuff. Execution in the half court needs to be a lot better than what it was. Shot selection with certain people we need to improve on.”

Looking ahead, CMU has top matchups against South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Virginia, Quinnipiac, Louisville and Miami (Fla.) in the nonconference – of which all played in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. 

But for Guevara, she plans to take it one game at a time.

“When we play Northwood on Thursday, that’s the biggest game we are going to play,” Guevara exclaimed. “We aren’t focused on anything else.

“You’ll hear me say that over and over and over. That’s the truth.”