Cards remain unbeaten at home downing Buffalo, 72-59

Evidently the women's basketball team did not want the University at Buffalo to look too bad. After building a 25-point lead, the Cardinals allowed an 11-2 run to end the game. But the Cardinals still came away with a win, 72-59.

"That was winning ugly at its finest," head coach Tracy Roller said.

The characteristically slow-starting Cardinals (18-4 overall, 10-1 Mid-American Conference) once again struggled through the opening minutes as the Bulls (9-14, 4-8) were able to control the game. In an attempt to teach the team to start games better, Roller substituted four players only three minutes into the game.

"It didn't make as big an impact as it did the last game," Roller said. "I'm just going to have to start taking out individuals who don't start well.

"We can't continue to have bad starts and bad first halfs. But it's starting to serve its purpose."

Freshman Kate Endress was the key sub for the Cardinals as she led the team in scoring in the first half with 12 points. In fact, her play was so good that Roller started her in the second half over the reigning league player of the year -- junior Tamara Bowie.

"(Endress) keeps getting better and better," Roller said. "She started the second half because she deserved it."

Bowie was the "X-Factor" according to Roller, who thought she would have a standout game. Instead, Bowie shot only two of seven from the field in the first half and was unable to guard the Bulls' post players. In her stead, Endress and junior Amy Zercher led the bench as it controlled the game, helping to force 14 Bulls' first-half turnovers.

"I wouldn't trade anyone off my bench for anyone in the MAC, or anybody in the country," Roller said. "I know what we can do. We've got kids who don't care they aren't starting, they just want to win."

Still, Buffalo's slow offense and zone defense continually kept Ball State's shooters in check, as the Cards were only able to break the game open in the final minutes of the first half.

But in the second half, it was all Crook, as she came out attacking the gaps in Buffalo's zone. She continually found her way to the basket for an acrobatic layup, or she would find one of the many Cardinal shooters standing at the three-point line for a good look at the basket.

"Coach told us in the first half we have to get into the open spots," Crook said. "The middle of the lane was wide open, I just did what the coaches wanted us to do."

Even with as much damage as Crook did on offense -- ending with 14 points and 10 assists -- it was her defense that led the Cardinals late in the game. Being severely overmatched, Crook frustrated several of the Bulls' guards, forcing them into turnovers.

"We just played them to their weakness," Crook said. "Some of their point guards don't like pressure, and we just tried to keep it up. It worked really well in the second half."

Nonetheless, the Cardinals' inability to score in the waning minutes left Roller saying the team has not made it to its ultimate goal -- playing a complete 40-minute game.

"We have not gotten close to as good as we can be," Roller said. "And that's scary."