Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chippewas knock off Ole Miss in McGuirk Arena debut

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || December 18, 2010

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. – It was, as the clock dwindled on a second half scoreboard showing a sizable Chippewas lead, long overdue and worth the wait.

It was, with a double-digit lead and only minutes remaining, the Central Michigan women’s basketball team, cruising to victory in their first home game of the season, the first in nine months and the first on the floor of McGuirk Arena.

And then, when senior forward Kaihla Szunko stole the ball from her Ole Miss counterpart Tori Slusher with just under four minutes to play in Saturday afternoon’s 16-point Chippewas victory, it was historic.

“On the bench I found out,” she said. “One of our girls said, ‘Get a steal for me!’ and I’m like, ‘OK, I guess.”

She got the steal, retired to the bench and then found out that her 21-point, 16-rebound, 10-steal performance marked the second triple-double in the program’s history, and the second of the young season in a Chippewas 82-66 victory over the Rebels.

“It was because my teammates helped me out,” Szunko continued. “I didn’t do it by myself. It’s a credit to them.”

The senior led the team with 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting from the field and collected 10 offensive rebounds in the first win in as many tries at McGuirk Arena.

“Woo-hoo!” exclaimed a relieved head coach Sue Guevara after the game. “We’ve been wanting to get here, to play, and to show everyone how we’ve been playing.”

“It was nice to be home,” she said. “And really nice to see everybody in the stands and to hear people.”

The home game was CMU’s first since March 8 of last year. The Chippewas opened the regular season with a 6-3 record on the road.

Struggling to rebound early and trailing the Rebels, Guevara called an early timeout to settle her team and the Chippewas responded by taking the lead midway through the first half and never relinquishing it.

“I was a little concerned that we were going to be too hyped to start the game,” she said. “I thought we settled down and just started attacking.”

And in a reserve role, sophomore guard Jalisa Olive attacked Ole Miss from the outside, scoring 17 points, largely on 5-of-9 shooting from behind the arc. She added three assists.

“She’s done a great job of understanding her role,” Guevara said. “When she comes off the bench, she’s fast with the ball.”

After an eight-point CMU run near the halfway mark of the second half, capped by a Shonda Long 3-pointer, the Rebels were unable to get within double-digits.

Long, a senior guard, was sidelined with foul trouble in the first half but returned to score 14 points in the second half, for 16 total on the game on 5-of-12 shooting.

The Chippewas defense forced 30 Ole Miss turnovers and recorded two more offensive rebounds than defensive, for 40 total.

“It’s great that we started at home with a win,” Guevara said. “We won two championships on the road, it would be nice to win one here.”

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