CMU women face another stiff road test with trip to Buffalo
Last Saturday, Central Michigan spent 40 minutes battling with one of the Mid-American Conference's best challengers in Ohio and were able to outlast the Bobcats, winning 90-87.
This weekend, it doesn't get any easier for the Chippewas, as they travel to Buffalo to take on another unbeaten conference opponent. The two teams will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in Buffalo’s Alumni Arena.
The two teams, both 4-0 in conference play, went to double overtime in their only meeting last season. The Chippewas won 98-93 behind 28 points from then-freshman Molly Davis and clutch free throws late from Kalle Martinez.
Historically, the Chippewas lead the series 16-13 and have won three of the last four meetings. The last time the Bulls defeated the Chippewas was in the semifinals of the 2019 MAC Tournament, when Bull guard Cierra Dilliard scored 30 and Summer Hemphill, now a redshirt senior, added 24 points and nine rebounds.
Here are three notable topics surrounding the matchup:
Familiarity between both squads
Both teams return a majority of their contributors, including a combined seven starters. Buffalo sophomore Dyashia Fair narrowly bested Davis for the MAC Freshman of the Year last season and is the Bulls' best returning contributor. The Chippewa bring back all five of last year's starters along with Martinez, who scored a career-high nine points in the win over Ohio.
Chippewa senior guard Micaela Kelly is second in the conference in scoring average, with Fair right behind her. Both have scored at least 20 points in each of their last five games. The duo may not match up, however, as Fair will likely guard Davis. This leaves freshman Cheyenne McEvans to check Kelly.
Where the Chippewas have four starters with at least three years of experience, the Bulls start four players in either their first or second years of eligibility to go with senior guard Hanna Hall. Hemphill, who didn't play in last year's matchup, has been nursing a knee injury and is uncertain to play against CMU. If she's able to play, Hemphill will suit up against the Chippewas for the ninth time.
The Chippewa seniors, Kelly, Maddy Watters and Kyra Bussell, have each played the Bulls seven times and hold a 5-2 record. It's Chippewa coach Heather Oesterle's second matchup against Buffalo, while UB coach Felisha Leggette-Jack is 5-9 against CMU in nine years leading the Bulls. The two teams have met twice in the championship game of the MAC Tournament during Leggette-Jack's tenure, each team won one.
Eight games into the season, CMU is ranked 16th in Division I in terms of points per possession; Buffalo is ranked 85th. The Bulls average eight more possessions per game, but with both teams averaging over 80, the tempo will not be much of an adjustment.
Both teams are tops in the conference in multiple categories. The Chippewas lead the MAC in field goal percentage, free throw percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. The Bulls lead in rebounding and opponent field goal percentage.
There are several cogs within these teams that make them so efficient. While Kelly and Davis have made obvious impacts that can't be overstated, Watters has also been a driving force. With the Chippewas in an offensive rut for a majority of the first half against Akron, Watters knocked down a pair of threes and set the stage for an enormous second half rally. On the season, Watters is shooting above 50 percent and scoring 11 points per game.
On the other side, Fair has been exceptional along with Hall, but McEvans is coming into her own as well. McEvans is shooting 45 percent on 3-pointers, averaging 10 points, and is coming off a performance against Eastern Michigan in which she set new career-highs in almost every category.
CMU and Buffalo have both experimented with different rotations in the beginning of the season. In a year where having a plethora of players to choose from, the Bulls have appeared to settle on between eight or nine players and the Chippewas between nine and 10.
Martinez provided a spark in the Chippewas' nail-biting win over Ohio with three straight 3-pointers. Martinez has always been known for her exceptional effort on defense, but she's shown an uptick in confidence offensively, too. Additionally, the Chippewas have gotten solid performances from redshirt sophomore Annika Weekes, a long defender who can guard multiple positions.
Freshmen forwards Rachel Loobie and Sydney Graber are still developing. Graber missed four games due to injury and is slowly working her way back into the rotation, most recently showing her scoring abilities with five points in seven minutes against Akron.
Loobie has shown flashes of a smooth jump shot in limited opportunities but has given CMU good minutes in place of Bussell or junior Jahari Smith. Redshirt junior Sophia Karasinski will always be an option because of her abilities as a shooter.
Hemphill's presence does wonders for Buffalo's depth because of her ability to play a large chunk of minutes. Fair is a lock to play 30-plus, and McEvans and Hall both look to be that way as well. Sophomore center Elea Gaba plays limited minutes, with backup Keowa Walters playing a large chunk of minutes off the bench. Adebola Adeyeye is another experienced option in the front court, with Jazmine Young serving as the go-to choice when one of the Bulls' guards need a break.
Both teams will get lots of minutes out of their experienced options, with Davis and Kelly averaging above 35 minutes per game for CMU and Fair around the same for UB. With these options set in stone, the variable that could decide the game is what each team gets out of their options off the bench.