Hooks, the MAC PotY, leads Ohio into conference tournament

Cierra ‘Cece’ Hooks grinned shyly, and you could see here weighing the options in her answer.

Minutes after the Ohio University women’s basketball team wrapped up the regular season on Saturday, Hooks – a senior guard – was asked if she should be the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year.

“Yeah,” Hooks began. “I mean, I don’t want to say it but I think I deserve it. Hopefully Defensive Player of the Year too, but you never know.”

Bob Boldon (center), seen here on March 6, 2021, will lead the Ohio University women’s basketball team into the 2021 MAC Tournament. The Bobcats open with Ball State on Wednesday, March 10, 2021 in Cleveland. Photo by Jason Arkley

Ultimately, even the MAC’s coaches couldn’t deny that Hooks was the best in the league — at both end of the floor – this season. Hooks was named the MAC Player of the Year, and also tabbed Defensive Player of the Year, by the conference on Monday.

Hooks becomes just the second player in Ohio history to earn the award, joining Caroline Mast (1984, ’85, ’86). Hooks won DPotY honors for a third consecutive year, and is just one of two players in MAC history to earn that award three times.

Hooks led the MAC in scoring, and checks in third nationally, with 26.3 points per game. Her 3.65 steals per game also led the league, and also rank third in the country. Hooks was eighth in the MAC in shooting, ninth in assists and 11th in blocked shots. She logged five games this season with at least 30 points, and collected 17 20-plus point games.

Even with Ohio beset by injuries and a late-season COVID pause, Hooks keep driving the Bobcats (13-7) forward. She broke the 30-point mark in OU’s last two games and helped the ‘Cats to the third seed in the 2021 MAC Tournament, which begins Wednesday, March 10.

Hooks also picked up spots on the All-MAC First, and All-Defensive, teams. Head coach Bob Boldon has tried to articulate just how much Hooks has meant to Ohio the last three years. Lately, he’s just had to state what seem to be obvious facts.

“What she’s done for us in the last month of the season has just been ridiculous. The numbers are absurd,” he said.

“She’s the best defensive player in the league. She’s the leading scorer in the league,” Boldon continued. “To me, that’s it. It’s open and shut. The kid is the best at both ends of the floor.”

Hooks headlines a strong Ohio contingent on the All-MAC teams. Junior guard Erica Johnson was a third team selection after averaging 18.9 points per game, and hit double figures in every contest she played in this season.

Senior forward Gabby Burris was an honorable mention all-league pick after averaging 13.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Freshman wing Madi Mace picked up a spot on the All-Freshman team after averaging 8.0 points and notching seven double-digit games in 20 appearances this season.

The honors are nice but what will be driving Hooks and all the rest this week is the MAC Tournament. Ohio begins its postseason with a matchup against No. 6 seed Ball State (14-10) at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

A year ago, Ohio won in the quarterfinal round but was denied a chance to progress when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the MAC Tournament and the rest of the sports world.

“I’m glad it’s here again after we got short-handed last time,” Burris said. “We were on the bus, we were there, we were ready to go and they’re like ‘You guys are going home.’

“It was bizarre. We’re ready to be back.”

Ohio and Ball State split a pair of regular-season meetings. Ball State won in Athens, in overtime, but the Bobcats got the equalizer in an 86-66 blowout in Muncie, Ind. on Feb. 10.

Ohio will enter the tournament as the MAC’s highest scoring team (78.8 ppg, 14th nationally), but has just two tournament championships in the program’s history. The most recent title came in 2015.

Boldon was on hand for that run, but the nature of the season in 2020-21, and the state of his roster, leads to plenty of uncertainty. Johnson played Saturday, but it was her first game in more than a month due to a knee injury.

Ohio played its last two games without regular guards Caitlyn Kroll and Kaylee Baumbule, but Boldon is “hopeful” both will be available against BSU.

Ohio will have the league’s best player, a returning standout in Johnson (perhaps), and (maybe) a full roster for the first time in two months. The Bobcats have developed recent depth as well.

Will it add up to a tournament championship? Or will the inconsistency that marked the final weeks show up again in Cleveland?

“it’s just been the weirdest four months I’ve ever coached,” Boldon said. “I can honestly tell you if we had to do it all over again I don’t what I would do the next time. There were so many variables.

“So, you’re cautiously optimistic about Cleveland. But we’ve got three more COVID tests before we get on the bus,” he said Saturday.

2021 MAC Women’s Basketball Tournament

Wednesday, March 10 – Quarterfinals

  • Game 1: No. 1 Bowling Green (18-5) vs. No. 8 Eastern Michigan (10-9), 11 a.m. (ESPN+)
  • Game 2: No. 4 Buffalo (14-8) vs. No. 5 Kent State (11-8), approximately 1:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
  • Game 3: No. 2 Central Michigan (15-8) vs. No. 7 Northern Illinois (12-11), approximately 4 p.m. (ESPN+)
  • Game 4: No. 3 Ohio (13-7) vs. No. 6 Ball State (14-10), approximately 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+)

Friday, March 12 – Semifinals

  • Game 5: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 10 a.m. (ESPN+)
  • Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner, approximately 12:30 p.m. (ESPN+)

Saturday, March 13 – MAC Championship

  • Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11 a.m. (CBS Sports Network)

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