MOUNT PLEASANT – For 371 days members of the Central Michigan women’s basketball program used 1.5 seconds as motivation.
“We’ll be back,” head coach Sue Guevara said following her team’s loss to Eastern Michigan in the March 10, 2012 MAC title game.
It was that simple. The Chippewas remembered the feeling and they knew what it was going to take to get back. A year and six days after coming 1.5 seconds from a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the Chippewas punched their ticket to the Big Dance with an 86-68 victory over Akron in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Saturday afternoon.
But it wasn't quite that simple. An offseason of hard work and one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country helped them get to that point.
“There is no doubt about it,” Guevara said in regard to the non-conference schedule preparing them for a postseason run after the team’s semifinals win over Toledo. “When you have to play Notre Dame, Purdue, Marquette and you go down to Florida, you’re playing really good competition. We played Green Bay twice and a good South Dakota State team and that got us ready. The competition and the atmospheres we played in certainly benefited us.”
The Chippewas were ready for the bright lights and intense atmosphere of Quicken Loans Arena. Their star, sophomore Crystal Bradford, came in with a point to prove after Akron’s Rachel Tecca was chosen as the MAC Player of the Year over her.
That vote and the memory of 2012 fueled Bradford to an MVP performance, averaging 18.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 3.0 blocks per game.
“It added fuel to my fire,” Bradford said. “I like being the underdog. I came in motivated and focused. After losing last year in the final seconds, I just wanted to make sure I was being a leader and making my teammates better.”
And even with the star-like performance of Bradford, it would not have been done without the play of the upperclassmen. Seniors Brandie Baker and Jessica Schroll were both named to the All-Tournament Team, and fellow senior Jalisa Olive came off the bench to score 14 points in the title game.
Junior Taylor Johnson was inserted to the starting lineup for the first time since January 2 and went on to average 10.3 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds. Her classmate and counterpart Niki DiGuilio helped seal the championship with four treys in the second half.
Each member of the Maroon and Gold has played a key role in the Chippewas’ fulfilling Guevara’s promise made in the postgame press conference a year ago.
And the memory of 1.5 seconds will continue to motivate the Chippewas as they continue to the NCAA Tournament that just eluded them a year ago.