The women's basketball team had one chance to defeat Western Michigan this season. One chance was all it needed.
Behind the play of seniors Amy Fuller and Shala Crook, the Cardinals (14-4 overall, 6-1 Mid-American Conference) were victorious over the Broncos (9-11, 6-2) 85-73 in a matchup of MAC West co-leaders.
Fuller led all scorers with 20 points while Crook scored 18, handed out six assists and had four steals as the Cardinals had five players score in double figures.
"Shala and Amy really knew what the game meant," head coach Tracy Roller said. "Not that everyone else didn't, but being seniors, they knew this was the only shot we had at Western."
It was Fuller's shooting that sparked a 9-0 Cardinal run that broke the game open.
With the game tied at 60 late in the second half, Fuller hit her second three of the night that ignited a 14-4 run in only five possessions to put the game out of reach for the Broncos. The Cardinals ended the game with 11 three-point shots made.
"Fuller's three couldn't have come at a better time," Roller said. "Her shooting got everyone else going. Four of five possessions during that run were 3-pointers."
As has been the story all season, the Cardinals overcame a slow start in which Fuller and sophomore Jessica Reiter got into foul trouble.
"We fell back seven points in the first half," Roller said. "Then we gave up seven to them again in the second."
Despite the two down periods for the team, the team played consistently in both halfs. But, in the team's quest to play what Roller called "a complete 40-minute game," Roller said the Cardinals almost made it.
"I always want more," Roller said. "But considering the hostile environment and the caliber of team, it was pretty close."
Freshman Kate Endress led the Cardinal bench attack that outscored the Broncos' bench 21-6. Endress finished with 11 points while grabbing five rebounds.
"The bench made the difference," Roller said. "(Amy) Zercher came off the bench and got three big rebounds in the first half and Kate gave us points. (The bench) saved the game."
In what Roller billed as the game that would decide the the MAC Freshman of the Year, little was decided between the candidates Endress and Western's Casey Rost.
"Rost was in a different situation," Roller said. "She was expected to score and lead the team. Kate came off the bench, plus, when you have five players score in double figures, you won't have someone break out with 30 (points)."
Prior to the game, Roller said she did not think anyone could stop Western's best player, Kristin Koetsier. But the Cards limited her to 17 points and kept her in foul trouble for most of the game. Roller said Fuller's play more than offset Koetsier's 17 points.
"(The game) was a chess match," Roller said. "Both teams battled back and forth. It's a shame that one team had to lose.
"But walking away from the game, you know you got better."