NORMAN — The Oklahoma women believe they’re entering the NCAA tournament from a very good place.
They have a great draw and won’t play on anybody’s home court unless they win twice beginning Saturday in Columbus, Ohio, at which point their next game, at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City might feel like their home court.
Also, the last time they absolutely had to win, they did, closing out the regular season with two needed victories over Kansas and Texas Tech.
Still, OU is 5-5 over its last 10 games, lost four of five in the middle of that stretch and is coming off a 19-point loss to Iowa State at the Big 12 tournament.
Now, consider Central Michigan, who the Sooners meet at 10:10 a.m. Saturday.
The Chippewas have won 8 of 10 entering the tournament, losing only to Toledo and Ball State, two teams now playing in the WNIT and one of them, Toledo, that has won 27 games this season.
The Chippewas have also won five straight games, none of them on their home court, closing the regular season with wins at Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan, and following that with wins over Bowling Green, Toledo and Akron at the MAC tournament.
And, it’s not like they were terrible until March. In the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Chippewas played No. 2 and Norfolk Regional top-seed Notre Dame within nine points (72-63) and topped 20th-ranked and Spokane Regional 11th-seed Green Bay 54-50 Dec. 5.
Senior forward Jessica Schroll, averaging 10.5 points per game, believes the difference has been her team’s ability to get stops.
“This tournament we started clicking really well, especially defensively,” she said after Central Michigan stopped Akron 86-68, “We’ve been clicking offensively, so it was really nice to see our team come together defensively and really step it up.”
Central Michigan may have started playing better defense before the MAC tournament. The Chippewas haven’t given up more than the 68 Akron scored since losing 84-59 at Bowling Green Feb. 3.
Getting a rematch with Bowling Green in the first round of the MAC tournament, the Chippewas held the Falcons to 48 points.
They’re directed by coach Sue Guevara, who remains the winningest women’s coach at Michigan, where she went 123-82 from 1996-2003.
After going 36-55 her first three seasons with the Chippewas, she has gone 61-38 since, including 21-11 this season, the program’s third straight 20-win campaign.
In Crystal Bradford, Guevara has a sophomore guard averaging 15.5 points and 9.7 rebounds. Another guard, Jessica Green, averages 11.8 points per outing.
A year ago, Central Michigan just missed the tournament, falling 72-71 at the buzzer to Eastern Michigan in the MAC tourney championship game.
Not this time.
“It was our team that won this tournament for us,” Guevara said. “I am so happy for our seniors and for our underclassmen, just to know what it’s like to be successful. I just couldn’t be any prouder of this team.”
Meeting the Sooners should be a big step up in class for the Chippewas. Still, here lately, they have nothing but victories to draw from.
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