Notes from the MAC West women's basketball opening night, which had some doozies. Highlights as they come available:
WESTERN MICHIGAN 70, TOLEDO 67 — It's a 16-game trek into the conference for each team, so one game likely won't make much of a difference. But the first one whose clock hit double-zeroes was quite an upset. WMU wasn't perceived as a mover or shaker this year (although they did have a big win against BG last year) but with the loss of best player Miame Giden for the season, they seemed even more short-staffed this year and finished 3-10 in the nonconference.
Quite simply, WMU matched every Rockets basket with one of their own, and while they never led by more than six points, they never trailed in the final 17 minutes. It was your classic road-trip trap game for UT, who had been doing very well without their own senior star Naama Shafir.
Maria Iaquaniello led the Broncos with 15 points but it was Aurielle Henderson who paced them with 12 second-half points to finish with 14 at a much more efficient pace. For Toledo, Andola Dortch scorched WMU for 28 points (including 13-for-13 at the line) and Yolanda Richardson banged out a 17-point, 10-rebound game. But apart from those two standouts, Toledo scored just 22 points on 7-for-35 shooting and 4-for-10 on free throws.
I'm not sure how much potential WMU has at a MAC West run, but they might be able to set themselves up nicely for decent seeding. As for Toledo, I think they'll be fine too. This was a close loss — one they should've had from the onset — but they're almost unbeatable at home and thusly should still be a major contender for the regular season crown.
BALL STATE 54, EASTERN MICHIGAN 51 — And another shocker/road trapper! Ball State had an up-and-down 5-8 OOC schedule and EMU's was a little more impressive, albeit disappointing at 8-5. But EMU had Tavelyn James and Ball State did not. In a sport where it's a little easier for one player to dominate a game, James' 20 points was four too few as none of her teammates could muster more than eight points. As for BSU, they were led by three scorers: Jazmin Hitchens (16), Brittany Carter (14) and Mercedes Miller (13).
Eastern did seemingly everything else right. It's just that you're not going to win many games with a 29.6 eFG% — and the vast majority of their shots were two-pointers. You'd think that EMU will recover from this and play better. At least for now you'll think that.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN 86, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 67 — At least one game went as scripted tonight, and CMU came out with their speedy pace and prolific offense for a nice road win. Crystal Bradford had 27 and Jessica Green added 24 more, as the team played tough defense and forcing 17 turnovers (13 of those were credited as steals) and had just eight giveaways of their own. NIU had a decent run in the nonconference at 6-6 but this was just a thumping for them. Satavia Taylor led the Huskies with 17 points on 14 shots.
Now at 8-6, CMU has won seven of eight games. Hottest team in the West right now? Hard to say otherwise.
Next games (most/all should be available live for free on MAC-Sports.com):
Saturday, January 7:
12 noon — Akron (0-1) at BGSU (1-0)
2:00 p.m. — OHIO (1-0) at Kent State (0-1)
4:30 p.m. — Buffalo (0-1) at Miami (1-0)
Saturday, January 8:
2 p.m. — NIU (0-1) at EMU (0-1)
2 p.m. — CMU (1-0) at Toledo (0-1)
2 p.m. — Ball State (1-0) at WMU (1-0)