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Key observations from CMU women's basketball season opener


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Forward Gabrielle Bird shoots during a game against Green Bay on Nov. 6 in McGuirk Arena.

Heather Oesterle's coaching debut ended in a double-overtime loss to Green Bay in McGuirk Arena. 

While one game does not tell the story of the season, Oesterle, her team and the fans watching learned about the Central Michigan women's basketball team. 

Some observations of the Chippewas were positive and others left question marks. 

Here are four observations from Central Michigan's 111-105 loss to Green Bay. 

Rebounding

CMU lost the rebounding battle, 41-29. With an already small team that has only two players 6-feet or taller, the boards were going to be an issue coming into the season. 

Oesterle noted as much after the alumni scrimmage, where the team was outrebounded. Oesterle and her staff would continue to work on rebounding as the season goes along. 

However, giving up 16 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second-chance points hurt the team and would do so down the road. 

Responding to pressure 

The Chippewas held an eight-point advantage heading into the second half. Green Bay outscored CMU 22-13 in the third quarter to take a one-point lead heading into the final quarter of regulation. 

After surrendering the halftime lead, the Chippewas could have wilted and allowed pressure to take over and give Green Bay an easy victory, but they didn’t. 

CMU fought back and battled in the fourth quarter, even holding the lead for part of the quarter. 

Once Green Bay tied the game up, the Chippewas had another opportunity to see what type of team they were going to be.

Junior guard Maddy Watters fouled out of the game with 45 seconds to play in regulation, which added pressure to the Chippewas. 

Senior forward MacKenna Kelly nearly had a steal to end the game with seconds remaining. But the Phoenix regained possession and tied the game at 100 with .6 seconds to play.

CMU continued to fight during overtime, despite missing a key player in Watters, who scored 17 points during the game.

Junior guard Micaela Kelly, another team leader, fouled out with three minutes to go in the first overtime. Senior forward Gabrielle Bird subbed in for Kelly. Bird stepped into the game and hit two big 3-pointers to give the Chippewas the lead.

The Chippewas missed a few free throws that could have potentially sealed the win at the end of the first overtime, but CMU still gave itself opportunities throughout the second overtime.

CMU lost the game but played the final eight minutes without two of its team leaders. The rest of the team stepped up to shoulder the pressure of missing two key players during crunch time.

”Our team has a ton of fight in them,” Oesterle said. “When Twin goes out of the game, when Maddy goes out of the game, and we’re still right there with a team like Green Bay.”

Spreading the wealth

All five CMU starters finished with double digits in the points column. 

Junior forward Kyra Bussell had a career-high 29 points and led the team, Micaela Kelly finished with 20 and Watters had 17, despite Kelly missing eight of the 10 minutes of overtime and Watters missing both overtimes. 

Sophomore center Jahari Smith had 12 and freshman guard Molly Davis had 15 in her first collegiate game. Bird had nine points off the bench and sophomore guard Kalle Martinez added three points. 

While Bussell led the team in scoring, it was a team effort and not one player appeared to dominate the offense. 

Oesterle talked before the season started that she wanted all five players on the court to be confident scoring the basketball. After the first game, it appears the team is on its way to that point.

To go along with scoring distribution, Oesterle said before the season that her staff was still looking for players that could play key roles off the bench specifically in the seventh and eighth spots in the rotation. 

With Watters and Kelly both fouling out, the Chippewas were forced to find the depth they needed in the season opener. 

For the most part, they were successful. 

MacKenna Kelly, Bird and Martinez all played seven minutes or more off the bench, all making contributions in one way or another down the stretch. 

Time will tell if Oesterle chooses to continue the season with a shortened bench or if Bird, Martinez and a couple of others begin to see increased minutes throughout the season.

“I learned that we do have more depth than I originally thought,” Oesterle said. “Last time we were sitting in a press conference here I was looking for that seventh and eighth player to step up and I think we do have eight, nine players that I can play right now.”

Live and die by the three

The Chippewas took 70 shots from the field during the game, 41 of those shots came from behind the 3-point line. As a team, CMU shot 37% for the entire game, but that number was at 43% in the first half.

Watters led the team with five made triples, Bird and Bussell were both 3 of 4, while Micaela Kelly shot 3 of 10. 

One number that sticks out is Davis, who missed all eight of her 3-point attempts. The former Saginaw Valley League Player of the Year was known for 3-point shooting at Dow High School in Midland.

 Despite the misses in the opener, Davis should be able to get those shots to fall. 

Under Oesterle, the team is going to take a considerable amount of 3-pointers and every player will attempt them, it may cause fluctuations in scoring, as was evident against Green Bay. 

But when the team begins making shots, it could become difficult for opposing teams to keep up.

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