Andy Sneddon, CMUChippewas.com
CLEVELAND -- It may take a village to raise a child. Likewise, it takes an entire team to win a championship.
And the Chippewas stand one win from a title -- a title they have coveted going back perhaps as far as two years.
With its top two scorers held to sub-par performances, Central Michigan got superb efforts from Reyna Frost and Micaela Kelly on Friday in holding off Miami (Ohio), 61-58, in a Mid-American Conference Women's Basketball Tournament semifinal at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was another tournament white-knuckler for the top-seeded Chippewas, who will face either No. 2 Buffalo or sixth-seeded Western Michigan in Saturday's 11 a.m. championship game (CBS SportsNetwork).
"It's survive and advance, and that's exactly what we did," CMU coach Sue Guevara said. "I just would really like to give Miami coach (Megan) Duffy big props. That Miami team has come a long way from Jan. 6 when we played them ... I think we took their best shot and thank goodness we have a survival vest on and we were able to pull that through."
Frost had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Kelly added 16 points as CMU improved to 27-4, tying the program record for victories in a season.
Moore, the MAC Player of the Year, was held to seven points -- she did, however, haul down a game-high 13 rebounds -- and Hudson, who finished runner-up to Moore in league player-of-the-year balloting, had 10 points. Combined, the pair entered the contest averaging nearly 38 points per game. They were a combined six for 17 from the field on Friday.
It was Frost, a Second Team All-MAC pick, who picked up the slack, hit big buckets, and grabbed critical rebounds down the stretch. Her jumper from the left baseline -- off a Kelly assist -- put CMU in front for good, 59-58, with 1:04 left.
Frost finished 9 of 15 from the floor and had two blocks in 37 minutes. She did it all without committing a single foul. Frost had 14 points, 14 rebounds and matched her career high with four steals in Wednesday's nail-biting quarterfinal win over Eastern Michigan.
"Reyna Frost has been a warrior, just a warrior the last two games," Guevara said. "If you look at the shots that she hits, the rebounds that she gets, the offensive rebounds that that kid gets for us, and defensively, getting deflections, she had three blocks."
Cassie Breen hit two free throws with 9.5 seconds remaining for the final margin. Miami (21-10) missed three 3-point tries as the clock wound down.
It was Frost's 15th double-double of the season and the 30th of her career.
"I think I was in the zone playing for my team and I don't want to go home," Frost said. "I think the players on the floor understand that we've been through (close games) six or seven times, and just know that we have people on the floor that don't want to lose the game and we've got seniors and juniors on the floor that have been through it."
Miami sophomore Lauren Dickerson scored 21 points and proved to be a very difficult matchup for the Chippewas. The sparkplug 5-foot-3 guard finished seven of 28 from the floor, including two of 16 from 3-point range. The First Team All-MAC pick entered the game averaging 19.8 points.
It often fell on the shoulders of Kelly, a redshirt freshman, to bird-dog Dickerson.
"I had to work, I had to work hard," Kelly said. "I knew that she was going to come to play and like attack, so I had to be smart and hold my composure through whatever."
PICKING UP THE SLACK
Even more pressure fell to Kelly when Hudson, the point guard, went to the bench with two fouls late in the first quarter and sat for the entire second. The Chippewas also got solid play from freshman guard Maddy Watters while Hudson sat. Watters scored four points, grabbed a rebound and did not commit a turnover in 14 minutes.
CMU led 21-10 after one quarter, but went scoreless over the final 7-plus minutes of the second quarter and watched its lead dwindle to just two, 27-25. It was CMU's lowest first-half point total of the season.
No matter who the Chippewas play in Saturday's title game, it's bound to be emotional for CMU -- either archrival Western Michigan or No. 2-seed Buffalo, which beat the Chippewas on an overtime buzzer-beater in the 2016 tourney title game. The Bulls handed CMU it's only league loss this season, 85-82, at Buffalo. That was CMU's only loss in its last 20 games.
"Tomorrow's just another game," Guevara said, repeating her season-long mantra. "I think what I'm so happy about for our team is ... in the preseason you're picked to win it, you're picked to win the league, you're picked to win the west, you're picked to win the tournament. And then for us to be able to get to where we are right now, to me says a whole lot about the focus of this team and what we'll have to do for tomorrow. I know they're going to be very, very excited and ready to go."
The victory was CMU's program-record-tying 27th of the season. The 1983-84 team finished 27-3. It was also the 86th victory, a program record, for the senior class -- Breen, Moore and Aleah Swary.