Why CMU is counting on resurgence from slumping Kyra Bussell
CMU head coach Heather Oesterle believes her program and its long-term success is defined by the inside-out presence its versatile athletes provide.
Offensively, the Chippewa women's basketball team has four options who have built a reputation scoring both inside and outside, and a fifth who dominates the glass and creates opportunities for her teammates.
But right now, there is little evidence of that advantage. The Chippewas are stuck in a three-game losing streak and a key to their success, senior forward Kyra Bussell, is struggling.
"I’m counting this year on Kyra Bussell," Oesterle said, "and she’s really struggling. That's no secret."
Against Eastern Michigan on Jan. 20, Bussell was 2-for-12 from the field. This marked the third time in the last four games where she had at least 10 misses from the field, with the only outlier a 0-for-3 showing against Ohio.
Her importance to the offense cannot be overstated. When at her best, Bussell is a two-way force who can score from the perimeter and dominate the boards. As a junior, she enjoyed extended success and played a huge part on a team that started Mid-American Conference play 16-0 and won the conference for the fourth straight year.
Now, however, she's stuck in a slump. When asked why her starting forward was struggling, Oesterle said the slump may have built on itself from game to game.
"I think it’s an-all mental thing," Oesterle said. "I think she’s in her head, she has been since the Buffalo game. It’s now my job to get her out of her head."
In a way, opponents are catching on. With guards Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis seemingly scoring at will, defenses are taking the ball out of their hands and allowing it into the hands of Bussell. She attempted 13 3-pointers, making two, in CMU's win over Buffalo and was just two-for-eight from beyond the arc in the loss to EMU.
During the Chippewas' three-game losing streak, Bussell has shot three-for-28 from the field, with two of her makes coming from beyond the arc. She hasn't been absent entirely from games, taking 18 free throws in that span, but she needs to shoot better from the field for the Chippewas to succeed.
It's no secret what a surging Bussell does for this team. Her ability to stretch defenses offensively is exceptional, and the communication and leadership she brings on the defensive side is just as important as anything she does offensively.
"We’re counting on her to rebound and score and she’s our best talker defensively so I’ve gotta have her in the game," Oesterle said. "But right now we’re not getting the production from her and it’s all between her ears."
After stringing together back-to-back double-doubles early in the season, Bussell has been in single digits in the rebound column in seven straight games. She had seven in the loss to EMU, but was held without a rebound against Ohio.
Bussell is averaging 8.6 points per game in losses, a sharp contrast to the 12.5 points she averages in wins. It's clear that when she's rolling, CMU is difficult to slow down, let alone beat.
Now, with the team reeling, Oesterle mentioned experimenting with lineup changes heading into the Chippewas' Saturday matchup with Akron. The last time CMU took on the Zips, on Jan. 6 in McGuirk Arena, Bussell was vintage Bussell: 15 points, three-of-six from beyond the arc and three rebounds.
Oesterle, and her team, are hoping for Bussell to return to form in the matchup. Because if she does, then CMU will be one step closer to regaining the swagger that made them the class of the conference.