Defense will be key for Cardinals this year

Roller: Cards need work on their defensive game to succeed.

When it comes to statistics, Ball State's new head women's basketball coach Tracy Roller makes it very clear as to which is the most important to the Cardinals' success this year.

"The win column," Roller said with a laugh.

With the team returning its top nine scorers from last year's 19-9 team, which was a new school record for wins, Roller sees the Cardinals as having the potential to have a very successful season.

"We really do have a balanced scoring effort," Roller said, "and not just with the players that start. In our exhibition game (against RTU Klondaika), we had 40 bench points."

It is that kind of depth that Roller thinks will help the Cardinals over the course of a season in which they play No. 1 Connecticut and compete in two tournaments that have fields that include Top 25 teams.

"In the past, we haven't had the depth we have had this year. It is a long season, and we have a really tough schedule," she said. "I think, for us, the deeper we are, the more successful we are."

A lot of the success Ball State had last year can be contributed to its high-powered offensive attack, which ranked fifth in the nation in points per game by having a scoring average of 82.6 points per contest. Many of those points came from the free throw line.

Last season, the Cardinals hit a school record 490 free throws while shooting .727 from the line. That is a trend that Roller thinks will continue this year.

"We have really worked on our shots off the dribble," she said. "I think working on that is only going to make you more of a free throw shooting team."

While Roller is confident in her team's offensive capabilities, she sees room for improvement in another area.

"We have the potential to be a high scoring team," Roller said. "What our weakness is right now is our defense."

A big part of that defense is senior guard Shala Crook. Last season, Crook led the Mid-American Conference in steals with 100. In doing so, she moved herself up to No. 2 in career steals in Ball State history with 241. The record is held by Jenny Eckert (1987-90) with 319 steals. Crook is also second to Eckert on the Ball State career assists list. Crook has 441 assists in her career compared to Eckert's 471.

Roller feels that Crook's defensive numbers can get even higher in a new defensive system that puts more pressure on the opponent.

"Shala is defensively oriented. She is a great defensive player. Now we are going to turn the heat up," Roller said. "I only see her getting better."

Defense is the key component for Ball State to succeed this year, Roller said.

"What is going to make a difference for us this year is our defensive percentage," Roller said. "If we can continue to score and hold teams, I think we will be very successful."


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