MOUNT PLEASANT – Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team knew they had a big game Thursday night against fifth-ranked Notre Dame.
The crowd knew it too and came out over 3,800 strong to support the Lady Chippewas.
However the Fighting Irish survived the crowd and CMU to win 72-63 at McGuirk Arena.
“I thought we rattled the cage of the Irish,” CMU coach Sue Guevera said. “But they hit the shots, they got some rebounds at some key times, and we hung in there. If we shore up a bit of our game, cut down on our turnovers a bit and rebound the ball it might have been a different story.”
The “rattle the cage” part was in the first half, when the Chippewas (2-3) and Notre Dame (5-0) traded the lead back and forth. CMU held a four-point lead only to watch it evaporate into a seven-point deficit with 6:22 remaining in the half.
That deficit got erased on two field goals by Jalisa Olive and one by sophomore Crystal Bradford in a minute and a half. When the first half finished, Central was behind by only a point, 40-39.
“We were beating them (Notre Dame) on dribble penetration and getting to the basket, we were beating them when we kick it,” Guevera said.
“We played terrible defense in the first half,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “We found their (Central’s) shooters in the second half.”
The second half was a different story.
“Muffet is not one of the best coaches in the country for nothing,” Guevera said.
McGraw put the Irish into a 2-3 zone, and it confused the Chippewas into going down 47-39 on a 7-0 run over the first 4:07 of the second half.
“I thought that we got pretty stagnant in the zone, I thought we didn’t move the ball well and I think that made a big difference in our shots,” Guevera said. “Then the shots we were getting in the paint weren’t going in. I thought that was the difference.”
Central had trouble making shots in the second half, shooting only 25.8 percent from the field after shooting 48.4 percent in the first half.
All-American Skylar Diggins led Notre Dame in scoring with 25 points, leading four players in double figures Natalie Achonwa had a double-double, scoring 10 points and added 10 rebounds, her fourth double-double in the five games played.
The Chippewas got 19 points from Jessica Green and 12 more from Niki DiGuilio on four three-pointers.
2010 Belding graduate Taylor Johnson had a tough game, scoring two points and grabbing five rebounds after scoring double-digits for three of the previous four games.
“We hung with them (Notre Dame). They just blew out a team (Mercer College Nov. 20) by 50,” Johnson said. “We did a good job. Individually, I didn’t do my best (Thursday) but that’s what I have teammates for. They were able to pick me up, they were able to help me out.”
Still, Johnson thinks the Chippewas “are very special.”
“People need to know this Central team is very special,” she said. “Last year in the MAC (Mid-American Conference championship game) we got to one second, we could have won that game (against Eastern Michigan). We shot ourselves in the foot with this game.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Chippewas, as they head to 14th-ranked Purdue Sunday.