Preview: Small-ball lineup key to victory for women’s basketball over Eastern Michigan


Central Michigan forward Kyra Bussell hurries down the court to play defense following a made basket against Ball State Jan. 15 at McGuirk Arena.

Mid-American Conference supremacy in Michigan has another battle Wednesday when the Central Michigan women’s basketball team takes on Eastern Michigan (8-8, 3-2 MAC) at the EMU Convocation Center in Ypsilanti. 

The Chippewas (12-4, 5-0 MAC) are coming off an 80-70 come-from-behind victory over in-state rival Western Michigan. The Eagles are 2-0 at home in MAC play this season and will look to continue their home court dominance against a CMU team that has won the last four regular season West Division titles.

For CMU, guard play figures to be an important piece of the winning puzzle. Junior guard Micaela Kelly is currently the top scorer in the MAC and ranks No. 3 in the NCAA with 23.9 points per game. Freshman guard Molly Davis has quickly adjusted to the speed of the collegiate game this season and has scored in double digits three-of-the-last-four games.

A constant focus for the Chippewas has been rebounding and the team looks to make the boards a key focus of the gameplan against the Eagles.

The Eagles will rely on athleticism to be the first team in the MAC to defeat the current West Division leaders.

“This team is so athletic,” CMU head coach Heather Oesterle said. “The fact that they play four guards, a lot of times we play four guards with Gabi [Bird], I think we match up pretty well with them. It’s going to be about knowing who the three-point shooters are and who the drivers are.”

The lineup that Oesterle referred to includes Davis and Kelly at the guard positions, with junior Maddy Watters playing the other wing/guard position along with Bird as a forward and either junior Kyra Bussell or sophomore Jahari Smith at the center position. With Bussell at center, the lineup is the Chippewas version of the “death lineup”, a small-ball lineup that includes the top five players on the team in terms of plus/minus. With Bird coming into her own this season, the lineup seems to be a favorite of Oesterle.

No matter who is on the floor for the Chippewas, keeping the game up-tempo and running the floor will be important for the team to potentially limit the threat of EMU junior center Autumn Hudson, one of the most physical players in the MAC.  She only scores 4.5 points per game and grabs 6.6 rebounds per game, but her strength poses a potential problem for the Chippewas. 

“We just have to keep her off the block and she likes to turn over her left shoulder so we have to do a good job of forcing her to the hand she doesn’t want to go to,” Oesterle said. “But there are some other people on the team that we might be able to dig off that aren’t good 3-point shooters, so that will help as well.”

Defensively, the task of guarding Hudson will likely fall to the hands of Smith and Bussell. 

Bussell spent much of last week’s game against Ball State guarding forward Oshlynn Brown, the teams leading scorer. Brown was held to only 10 points and had very little impact on the game overall, a large reason CMU earned the 66-39 victory.

After the game, Bussell was asked about the tough task of guarding Brown and how she prepared.

“All week we focused on it, we have big practice players that come in,” Bussell said. “She was basically a guy that was 200 pounds and 6 inches taller, that definitely is something, practicing against a guy like that.”

The strategy worked well and is something the team typically does every week to prepare for each game and will utilize again to prepare Bussell and the others who will have to guard such a strong player during the game.

Following the game against EMU, the Chippewas will be back at home to take on Toledo. The Rockets (9-7,4-1 MAC) are in second place in the MAC West. The matchup will give the winning team an early-season edge in the race for the division crown.