There are some games you see that are so exciting that you can't help but think about them for days after. When the 9th ranked Kentucky Wildcats came into McGuirk Arena to clash with Central Michigan the result was one of those games.
It was not looking like that was going to be the case in the first half however. The Chippewas were badly outplayed by the Wildcats through the entire first half. Kentucky started the game with quick ball movement and dominating defense. Sue Guevara's CMU squad looked to be outmatched. UK seemed to have a wide-open shot every possession and the Chips couldn't seem to buy a make for the first several minutes. Jessica Green scored the first 8 and 10 of the first 12 points for the Chippewas.
The Wildcats were able to jump out to a big lead early and remained in control through the entire half and they led 47-28 at the break
It was at this point where the 2,361 in attendance probably starting thinking "well this will help them in the long run" or "why does Sue Guevara keep scheduling these games?" Given the way the first half went down, it would be a stretch for even the most optimistic Chippewa fan to think that a comeback might be possible. But Crystal Bradford and company would not go down without a fight.
The second half began with neither team making a move. Central couldn't seem to chip away at the lead, but the Wildcats couldn't seem to strike a finishing blow.
The turning point in the half came when CMU switched to a zone defense. The shift in strategy was obvious to spot, but just as obvious was the effect it had on Kentucky's offense. The Wildcats couldn't move the ball as effectively and were often forced to settle for bad shots.
Coming down the stretch Kentucky tried one more time to pull away as they extended their lead to 11 with five minutes remaining. But a series of quick baskets including a pair of back-to-back threes by freshman Cassandra Breen brought the Chippewas within 3 with three minutes remaining.
Both defenses went into shutdown mode as neither team was able to get good looks at the basket during the last three minutes. A missed three by Jennifer O'Neill of Kentucky led to a Crystal Bradford rebound with 13 seconds and no timeouts remaining. Bradford connected with fellow senior Jessica Green who got a decent look at a potential tying three-ball, but the shot rimmed out and time expired. The comeback ends just short and CMU suffers their first loss of the season by a score of 71-68.
It's tough to appreciate moral victories, but if there was ever one worth appreciating it was this. The Chippewas proved to the rest of the country that they are never out of a game until the final buzzer. It takes a special team to mount a comeback like this against one of the top teams in the country. Even in a loss, the Chippewas showed their mental toughness as well as their pure talent as a team.
Perhaps most encouraging is that the comeback happened without Crystal Bradford as the offensive catalyst. The senior superstar finished the game with only 6 points and 5 turnovers, but her stat line also includes a respectable 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Bradford, who is still nursing a sore knee as a result of the injury she suffered in practice days before the MAC Tournament, is clearly not yet at 100% and her slow start to the season is proof of that. Despite that, the Chippewas were still able to put together a very impressive game against one of the best teams in the nation. If Bradford does get back to full speed, the rest of the country had better take notice of this Chippewa squad.
Coach Guevara has a history of scheduling what can only be called a gauntlet of non-conference opponents. Going forward, the Chippewas will play host to the #2 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The non-conference schedule also features away contests with Oregon, and B1G foe Minnesota, as well as a home-and-home with Dayton who is considered by many to be the top mid-major program in the country.
CMU was chosen to reclaim the MAC championship this season, and with complete performances like the 2nd half against Kentucky, it is clear to see why. The Chippewas next contest is against another mid-major power Richmond in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout.