The Akron Zips defeated the Central Michigan Chippewas 85-69 on Friday afternoon to advance to the championship game of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Women's Basketball Tournament. The Zips dethroned the defending tournament champions with a deadly efficient second-half attack that took full advantage of the absence of MAC Player of the Year Crystal Bradford.
Early in the game, it looked like the Chippewas wouldn't miss a beat. They scored the game's first seven points, then after withstanding an 8-0 run by Akron, built a 25-17 lead by the midpoint of the first half. They were shooting 50 percent, were holding Akron to under 25 percent, and were dominating inside the paint.
After that, it seemed to go all downhill for CMU. The roll towards Akron began with a 10-2 run that tied the game at 27. From there, the two teams played even until halftime, and the teams went to the locker room tied at 38. The even play continued during the opening minutes of the second half, as the teams traded the lead several times. Eventually, the Zips took a 56-53 lead with just under 12 minutes to go.
The game began titling more strongly in their favor as the second half wore on, and their lead began to inflate. It reached 10 by the third media timeout, and their ability to make shots and force Chippewa mistakes helped the Zips maintain that edge into the final few minutes. CMU errors became more prevalent at the end of the game, and Akron free throws sealed it.
One big issue with Bradford's absence that became clear as the game wore on during the second half was leadership. As the game began to move towards Akron's favor, the Chippewas became increasingly rudderless and made uncharacteristic mistakes. The other was physical play on the inside. CMU was out-rebounded 49-45 and, while they had more offensive rebounds, they allowed Akron to total 15. They also committed 23 fouls, including 16 in the second half.
That foul trouble is what really hurt CMU. The Zips were in the bonus after just seven minutes of the second half and were in the double-bonus with several minutes left in the game. This hurt their ability to make stops defensively but also made their inside-out offense more difficult to execute. And where Central Michigan usually plays their best ball, particularly on defense, in the final few minutes of games, today they were listless and mistake prone on both sides of the court.
Although the Chippewas came out with a lot of energy and punch, by the middle of the second half, it seemed as if CMU had worn itself out, and Akron feasted on that.
Somewhat surprisingly, Akron was the more well-balanced scoring team. Hanna Luburgh (25) and Rachel Tecca (10) combined for 35 points, but 19 of those came in the final 11 minutes of the game. Early, it was Anita Brown (16) and Carly Young (11) acoring the points. Kacie Cassell, who usually dishes out assists and doesn't score much, poured in 18 points while getting in her seven assists. Young led the Zips with 10 rebounds and posted a double-double.
The Chippewas featured four double-digit scorers, but their numbers did not jump off the page as they often do. No player had a double-double; in fact, Jessica Green led the team with 15 points, and only one player (Jas'Mine Bracey) had more than seven rebounds. Bracey finished with nine.
Akron (22-9) continues their run as the #3 seed and will now face #5 seed Ball State for the MAC championship tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 p.m. EST. The Zips will be seeking their first ever MAC tournament championship; they lost to Central Michigan in the finals last season. CMU (20-11) will now have to wait for their postseason fate, but they will likely earn a bid to the Women's NIT.
This is the third year in which the top two seeds have earned byes straight to the semifinals. In those three seasons, the top two seeds are 1-5, and the #1 seed is 0-3.