Three takeaways from CMU women's basketball's season opening loss to Michigan
There were good moments, there were bad moments.
Going against a bigger, more physical Michigan team, Central Michigan held its own for nearly three quarters before the Wolverines pulled away. It was important for CMU to negate any sort of substantial advantage the Wolverines may have, yet it couldn't do that. The Wolverines dominated the rebounding battle and shot a much higher percentage from the field.
Though the Chippewas hung in for a while, eventually the mistakes caught up to them. Whether it be the disadvantages on the glass, turnovers late in the shot clock, or simply getting denied in the paint, CMU couldn't keep the game close late Wednesday in Ann Arbor.
Here are three takeaways from CMU's 93-75 season opening loss to Michigan
Backcourt tandem proves amidst defeat that it's among best
Right away, senior guard Micaela Kelly and sophomore guard Molly Davis proved that they were two of the best players on the floor. Davis had seven points in the opening frame, cutting and driving past defenders. Meanwhile, Kelly was dominant later, scoring 17 of her team's 25 points in the third quarter to keep the game close.
Kelly, whose name was plastered all over national watchlists during the preseason, proved that she deserves every ounce of national recognition. She hit 11-of-22 shots, getting to the rim with ease. Matched up against either Amy Dilk or Akienreh Johnson, Kelly used her speed to get by defenders consistently.
Davis, meanwhile, showed that she's among the best point guards at the mid-major level. She only turned the ball over twice, dished out two assists and created opportunities for herself and others. Davis attempted a career-high 20 shots, showing that the days of her passing up chances with uncertainty are over. She also played all 40 minutes, something that she'll likely do a lot throughout the season.
The duo combined for 54 points, two-thirds of the team's points. Additionally, Kelly and Davis accounted for eight of the team's 10 assists. In a game that will serve as one of the Chippewas' toughest tests of the season, Davis and Kelly proved that they are a combination as good as any within not just the Mid-American Conference, but maybe any at the mid-major level.
Rebounding difficulty tough to overcome
Michigan presented a pair of tough matchups in juniors Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown. While the Chippewas were going to have a hard time guarding the two of them regardless, the result was still less than ideal. The Wolverines dominated the boards, outrebounding the Chippewas 41-23.
Hillmon scored 26 points and grabbed 11 boards. CMU matched her up with junior Jahari Smith, who fouled out after playing just nine minutes. Brown scored 22 points to go with four rebounds, as well.
Getting just one opportunity on most offensive possessions, the Chippewas were forced to bleed much of the shot clock to find the best shot. CMU battled down low but had a tough time converting around the rim. Davis and Kelly were able to get by defenders, however the rest of the team didn't have the same luck.
Now, CMU won't have to go against teams that have size like Michigan did all year. Yet, it was a good test and proved the fact that rebounding is pivotal to winning games. The Chippewas were able to keep it close for a while despite being dominated on the boards, however the lack of opportunities came back to bite them once Michigan began to run away.
Chippewas show depth in rotation
In years past, CMU has seen its rotations be as narrow as six players. Whether it be Heather Oesterle or her predecessor Sue Guevara, the expectation has been set that the best players will play for as long as they can.
But with all five starters along with a handful of contributors returning and a talented freshmen class coming in, it's not a stretch to think that this might be the Chippewas' deepest team in years. Seven players played double-digit minutes, and two others played more than five. Senior guard Maddy Watters was not with the team for the opener, but once she is the team could be 10-deep.
With Watters out, redshirt sophomore Anika Weekes got the start. Weekes was solid in her first game since the 2018-19 season, as she missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. She finished with eight points, six rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Oesterle was experimenting with various lineups throughout the game. Smith, senior Kyra Bussell and freshmen Sydney Graber and Rachel Loobie all saw time at the "five" position. Juniors Sophia Karasinski and Kalle Martinez played a majority of their time on the wing. Freshmen Maryama Turkstra and Carlee Crabtree also saw time late in the game.
The Chippewas may not be this deep all season long, as players will begin to set themselves apart. With Davis, Kelly and Weekes all playing nearly all of the game's 40 minutes, there simply may not be ample opportunities. Yet, it appears when Oesterle gets into a pinch, there will be plenty of options for her to call on.