Crystal Bradford and Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team fall to Ball State, 67-63

Central's Crystal Bradford scored 20 points and pulled down 21 rebounds Thursday night in a losing effort.

Crystal Bradford tries to corral a pass during Thursday’s 67-63 loss to Ball State. (Brittni Hengesbach | GCMag)

Following an outstanding January, which saw the Central Michigan women’s basketball team go 7-1, things took a step in the opposite direction. The team’s downward slide continued against Ball State University on Thursday night, with a 67-63 defeat, Central’s fourth loss in the last seven contests.

It was an emotional defeat as it was senior night at McGuirk Arena. Brandie Baker, Jessica Schroll and Jalisa Olive played their last career home game. The loss also drops Central to 16-11 overall and 10-4 in conference play. There are two games left on the schedule before the Mid-American Conference Tournament begins, at Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan.

If there was one positive to take away from the defeat against Ball State, it was Central’s outstanding effort on the glass, as they pulled down 22 offensive rebounds, including 10 from sophomore Crystal Bradford. Bradford led the way for Central by scoring 20 points and grabbing 21 rebounds, which gave her second place in the Central Michigan record books, for rebounds in a game.

On the season the sophomore has averaged 15.0 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per contest. She’s also been named the MAC player of the week an impressive five times this season. Head coach Sue Guevara acknowledged that Bradford did a fine job rebounding the ball but questioned her decision making in the process.

“She’s capable of rebounding the ball like that all of the time,” Guevara said. “Let’s see if it can continue on Sunday (at Northern Illinois).”

Bradford shot nine-of-24 from the field and zero-for-four from the three-point line against Ball State, this following a two-for-14 shooting performance against the University of Toledo.

“If you look at her shots, she has to have better shot selection,” Guevara said. “When your  3-pointer isn’t going in then stop shooting it, stop using the spin move and use the backboard.”

Guevara was visibly upset during the post game press conference and for good reason. Central shot a horrendous three-for-22 from downtown and 10-of-20 from the free throw line against Ball State, scoring just one point in the final four minutes of the game. Central was superior is every statistical category, except of course the most important one, the final score. How does a team out-rebound its opponent by eight and force them to commit 19 turnovers and still lose the game? As Guevara pointed out, the shot selection was terrible in the final minutes and all of the blame cannot be put on Bradford.

“The last three minutes we lost our composure, we took quick unnecessary shots,” Guevara said. “We would get offensive rebounds and instead of working it around, we would put another quick shot up.”

Central has had a problem finishing games and it isn’t going to get any easier for the team. Second leading scorer Jessica Green recently tore her ACL and will be forced to miss the rest of the season. Green was averaging 11.8 points per game and played an important role for the Chippewas.

“We don’t really have anybody that can penetrate and finish,” Guevara said. “She gave us the presence defensively, she gets deflections, we don’t have anybody doing what Jessica did for us.”

Bradford has proven that she has the desire and natural ability to be the woman to step up for Central, as they try and finish this season strong. A road trip to Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan is all that is left before the postseason begins. Central outscored Northern and Eastern by a combined margin of 160-107 this season. Bradford averaged 13.5 points per game and 13.5 rebounds per game in the first meetings with the aforementioned teams.

This is a perfect opportunity for Central to find their grove as they try and capture a MAC tournament championship. Anything can happen, so it is vital for them not to take these upcoming games lightly, as a first round bye in the MAC tournament hangs in the balance.

“We could finish anywhere from second to sixth in the conference,” Guevara said.

It all starts this Sunday in Dekalb, Ill. While many Central students will be enjoying a week of relaxation and vacationing, this team will be working harder than it has all season to get back on the inside track to postseason success.