Preview: How CMU, Toledo match up heading into Wednesday's game
Heather Oesterle got her team back on track on its trip to Akron.
Coming off a three game losing streak, the program's longest since 2014-15, Oesterle's group kicked its performance into high gear from the opening tip against the Zips on Jan. 23.
Sophomore guard Molly Davis scored 32 points, equaling the Chippewas' season-high first quarter output, and CMU's women's basketball team looked like the unstoppable force it had been to start Mid-American Conference play.
Now, the next step is maintaining that groove.
CMU (8-5, 6-3 MAC) is set to travel for a matchup at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Savage Arena against the Rockets (8-5, 4-5 MAC), who are coming into the game off a nine-point loss to Buffalo.
The Chippewas will certainly have a bitter taste in their mouth coming into the matchup, having lost each of their last two games to Toledo. The latter was a 78-71 defeat in the quarterfinal round of last season's MAC Tournament, one day before all of college basketball was shut down.
Though neither team will field the same roster it did at Quicken Loans Arena last March, both return a hefty group of contributors from those squads. CMU returns all five starters while Toledo brings back just one but a handful of contributors who have taken on new roles.
The Chippewa backcourt tandem of senior Micaela Kelly and Davis have taken their game to another level since the last time these teams met. Together, the duo is averaging 42 points per game. Kelly, the reigning MAC Player of the Year, is averaging 25.3 points in her last four games while Davis is coming off the career-best performance.
While Kelly and Davis have continued their strong play, the CMU frontcourt has shown flashes of being equally impressive. Junior center Jahari Smith notched a double-double against Ohio on Jan. 16 and drew close to another against Akron, showing spurts of offensive potential along with her usual offensive prowess.
Struggles from senior forward Kyra Bussell paved an opening for redshirt sophomore Annika Weekes, who picked up 11 points and 10 boards against Akron for her first career double-double. Senior guard Maddy Watters has been the calming presence all season, notching a cool 10.8 points per game on 47 percent shooting from 3-point range.
Toledo is led by its lone returning starter Quinesha Lockett, who is scoring 17.8 points per game. A sophomore from Omaha, Nebraska, Lockett has nearly doubled her average scoring output from last season while adding versatility as a passer. She has new weapons around her but has managed to become a bigger threat than last year.
Around Lockett, the Rockets are fueled by a pair of sophomore shooters in Muskegon native Sophia Wiard and Southfield's Soleli Barnes. Wiard started the season hot, making seven triples in Toledo's 82-79 win over Northern Illinois, but has made just one of her past 19 attempts from beyond the arc.
Barnes, meanwhile, made her season debut against Buffalo and scored 19 points, including five made 3-pointers. She made her return after missing Toledo's first 12 games rehabbing a PCL injury and adds an extra dimension to the lineup.
On the inside, Mali Morgan-Elliot averages six points per game as the Rockets' lone forward in the starting lineup. A pair of freshmen, Khera Goss and Sammi Mikonowicz, have established themselves in the lineup as taller guards. Goss is a slasher while Mikonowicz is another shooter.
Keys to victory
A key for the Chippewas will be getting production from their bench. Oesterle has mentioned wanting to get more from her bench, whether it be scoring or simply minutes to allow Davis and Kelly to get breathers. Weekes has established herself as the sixth player, and any scoring CMU can get from her will be crucial to staying in the win column.
Meanwhile, Toledo will look to make the Chippewas win on the inside. With Bussell struggling and Smith up and down offensively, look for Lockett and Wiard to try to get the ball out of the hands of Kelly and Davis and into those of others. Limiting CMU's backcourt production will be important for the Rockets.
With the new eight team format for the MAC tournament, Toledo is currently on the outside looking in. The matchup will be each team's 10th game in conference action, meaning that they've reached the conference slate's halfway point. CMU is looking to climb into the top four, while the Rockets are looking to crack the best eight.
Every win is pivotal.