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The crowd's energy at McGuirk arena on Thursday was worthy of an upset, but the Chippewas fell to The Fighting Irish 72-63.
Sophomore guard Crystal Bradford takes a shot attempt against Notre Dame on Nov. 29. (Brittni Hengesbach | GCmag.org)
Fire. Up. Chips.
These three words did not lead to a Central Michigan victory over Notre Dame, the fifth-ranked team in Women’s college basketball, as Central fell to The Fighting Irish, 72-63 on Thursday night at McGuirk Arena. However, those three words did have an impact on the court and lifted the spirits of every Chippewa in the arena.
With a large crowd on hand at McGuirk, the thunderous sound of clapping hands, clusters of screams, and fans of all ages going wild every time the ball ripped through the net created an atmosphere worthy of a Top 5 team in the nation.
“I thought the crowd was great,” Central head coach Sue Guevara said. “I thought that our kids played their guts out. You just want your team to play with as much effort and I thought we rattled the cage of the Irish, but they hit some shots. They got some rebounds at some key times and we hung in there.”
Senior guard Jalisa Olive was among four Chippewa players who made it to the charity stripe on Thursday. But the crowd Olive and other Central players faced at the free throw line was far more welcoming than the one Notre Dame faced in its 31 free throw attempts.
Whenever the Irish went to the line, players were met with a crowd constantly waving hands, towels and shirts in an attempt to distract Notre Dame players in the best way possible. There was even one passionate fan that would lift up his shirt and jiggle his belly to disrupt the team’s focus.
That energy made its way onto the court, fueling hustle plays and acting as judge and jury for the officials.
“You just could feel their energy,” Guevara said. “They were really into the game. I loved the fact that we got our little three signs. They reacted when we got a loose ball or we got a rebound. They reacted when they didn’t like what the officials called which I liked too. It was great. It was a really good crowd and I was really happy students came.”
While the energy of the crowd was amplified with Central hosting a highly-ranked Notre Dame team, sophomore guard Jessica Green, who scored 19 points and went 8-of-15 from the field, said it was important to not invest too much into the hype of the No. 5 team in the nation.
“We just kind of got down on all the hype and just play(ed) like we normally do,” Green said. “They tie their shoes just like we did, so we just kind of worked together and we had started off good.”
Junior guard Niki DiGuilio, who scored 12 points and was 4-of-5 on her 3-point field goal attempts, said she also tried to ignore the hype of a top 5 opponent and stay focused on the task at hand.
“Personally, I had to make sure my hype number was not too crazy where I can’t perform,” DiGuilio said. “I think as a team, we have to work on that because this sport is a mental game, if you get too hype(d), then you kind of freeze. I think that’s a big factor in the game.”
DiGuilio also agreed with Green’s assessment of playing Notre Dame and said it’s important to play just as hard in each game regardless of the opponent.
“Every game you have to be just as tenacious as you were the last game as for this game,” DiGuilio said. “Like she (Green) said, they tie their shoes. They eat breakfast. They’re people just like we are. So it has to be the same, you have to be consistent.”
Green, who led the team in scoring on the night, showed nice touch inside the 3-point arc, accrediting her statistical success to her confidence.
“Like any shooter, every shooter will find a mojo in confidence,” Green said.
Throughout the game, that confidence — along with effective communication through both vocal and hand gestures — were on display, helping Central pass the ball swiftly and effectively. With that said, the Chippewas’ 23 turnovers played a large role in the loss. Guevara said if the team could have cut down on turnovers and came up with more rebounds, the game could have ended differently.
Guevara said she expected a good crowd and wanted nothing but the girls to do their best and entertain the audience to ensure this type of turnout on a more regular basis.
“I just wanted our team to perform well, so they’ll come back because I think we do have a pretty good basketball team and we’re going to fix up something that we need to fix up but I think we can compete for a championship in the MAC,” Guevara said.
The Chippewas will travel to Purdue University to play the Boilermakers on Sunday, Dec. 2, and will return to McGuirk Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 5, to play Green Bay.
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