March Madness is nearly upon us. The first step in the journey to the NCAA tournament is the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Last year, the Eastern Michigan University women’s team won the MAC and earned a bid in the NCAA tournament. This year, the team holds the eighth seed and will be taking on ninth-seed Western Michigan University on Saturday afternoon.
After Wednesday’s loss to Central Michigan University, EMU head coach Tory Verdi said the team would be looking at the MAC tournament as a fresh start. The Eagles finished the regular season with an 8-21 record including 6-10 in the MAC.
“[The MAC tournament] is a new season,” Verdi said. “We will be excited for it.”
Verdi also said the team will have to make some changes and dictate the pace of the game against Western.
“[Western Michigan is] a little bit different than obviously Central and Toledo,” Verdi said. “On Saturday, we’re going to try and speed up the pace of the game, do what we do best and get deflections and steals and try and convert on the other end.”
Junior guard Desyree Thomas has been a spark plug in the Eagles lineup as of late. She has scored in double digits in four of the team’s last five games, averaging 10.2 points per game in that period. She scored 15 points in the team’s last game against WMU, a 73-69 victory, Feb. 23.
Another player who had a good game against WMU that night was freshman guard Bianca Cage, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-of-5 from three-point range. Cage has cooled off lately, however, and has only averaged 5 PPG in the last five games. She was held scoreless against CMU Wednesday.
Cage has been the team’s go-to three-point shooter, and her struggles have reflected on the stat sheet for the entire team.
Verdi said Wednesday night three-point shooting has been an area which has been a thorn in his team’s side all year long, but against Western, the team was 4-of-6 from long distance. Junior guard Denaya Brazzle came off the bench and made the team’s only other three that afternoon.
Senior center Chelsea Hite has given a boost to the Eagles offense. She has only averaged 6 PPG over the last five games, but that is a deceiving statistic. She scored a career-high 13 points against Northern Illinois University on Feb. 28, a total she matched Wednesday night over CMU. She is averaging 14 minutes per game in the last five games, all off the bench.
Hite is a leader on the team and her energy is contagious, even when she’s not on the floor. In addition, her effort has not gone ignored by Verdi.
“Chelsea has been really, really good the second half of the season,” Verdi said. “You just see the growth and development in her game, the confidence. It’s been great to see.”
Saturday is the day many people will be coming back to campus, as Spring Break comes to an end. Taking a little detour to the Convocation Center may be just what the team needs. The team finished the regular season with a 4-11 record at home, but Verdi is hoping the home crowd gives the team that extra little push it needs.
“We haven’t been great [at the Convocation Center],” he said. “The fact that it’s our last game in the Convo [this season], our kids are going to be pretty excited to play.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. as the second half of a basketball doubleheader at the Convo. The results can be found after the game on our website
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho