Senior guard Nathalie Fontaine shooting over a Miami defender in Worthen Arena on Jan. 09. DN FILE PHOTO BY BREANNA DAUGHERTY
Ball State women's basketball prepares for MAC Tournament
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, awaits Ball State women’s basketball as the team gears up for the Mid-American Conference tournament March 9-12. The Cardinals (20-8, 12-5 MAC) have already clinched a bye to the quarterfinals due to their conference record.
The Cardinals control their standing in the tournament. If they win against Toledo (17-11, 12-5 MAC) at 2 p.m. March 5, they will be the No. 3 seed. If Ball State loses, it will fall to the No. 4 seed.
Head coach Brady Sallee said his team has built up to the tournament and is one of the "top dogs in the league."
Ball State team leaders
Points per game — Nathalie Fontaine (20.9 ppg)
Rebounds per game — Nathalie Fontaine (10.1 rpg)
Assists per game — Carmen Grande (5.1 apg)
Three-point shots made per game — Jill Morrison (2.5 three-pointers per game)
Shooting percentage — Renee Bennett (53.7 percent)
Three-point shooting percentage — Shelby Merder (35.9 percent)
“We want to be playing at our best in March,” he said. “Well, it’s March; … I think we have the confidence to go beat anybody we’ll see.”
Sallee said he is hoping for a fairly large turnout from Ball State fans with the men’s basketball team also in contention for a first-round bye.
"When you get up to Cleveland, it’s an awesome atmosphere and it can only be that much better if you’ve got a home crowd there really backing you," he said. "It’s fun to play for the whole ball of wax in front of your people."
To play at their best, Sallee said the Cardinals need to be versatile in his four-out, one-in offensive system.
“You can’t just be a shooter. You can’t just be a ball handler. You can’t just be a back-to-the-basket player,” he said. “We can fit those pieces in if we need to, but the better players in these systems are the ones that can do a little bit of everything.”
In the four-out, one-in offense, four players are generally positioned on the perimeter with one player in the post. For Ball State, senior guard Nathalie Fontaine is usually in the post.
Fontaine broke the Ball State career scoring record March 2 and is second in the MAC with 20.9 points per game and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Versatility, however, extends beyond his post-playing guard. For example, Sallee called sophomore forward Moriah Monaco “the best guard on the floor” because she scored a career-high 28 points behind eight 3-pointers when Ball State beat Eastern Michigan on Feb. 27 to clinch the first-round bye.
Sallee said his ideal lineup would be “positionless,” where every player can play in the paint and on the perimeter.
For now, though, Sallee said he is pleased with his players — including freshman point guard Carmen Grande.
Grande, originally from Madrid, Spain, is third in the MAC with 5.1 assists per game and seventh with a plus-1.6 assist/turnover ratio.
Fontaine said she wished she could have played more seasons with Grande.
“I wish she came here my freshman year or that I came here her freshman year because she’s a great player,” Fontaine said. “She’s still a freshman, so she’s gonna have a lot of time to develop. … I’m just happy I get to play with her for one year at least.”
Sallee said Fontaine’s glowing review was better than any compliment he could give her.
“That’s one of the all-time greats coming through your program saying that about a freshman,” he said. “That’s pretty impressive.”
Ball State currently leads the MAC in shooting percentage (42.1 percent) and assists per game (16.6.). It is also second in the conference in scoring margin (plus-8.4 points per game), field-goal percentage against (36.9 percent) and rebounding margin (plus-6.5 rebounds per game).
However, it is a combined 0-4 against MAC East Division leader Ohio University and MAC West Division leader Central Michigan.
Still, Sallee said the Cardinals can change their fortunes if they stick to their system.
“We feel like when we’re the best Ball State we can be, we’re good enough to win this whole thing,” he said.