Rockets and Cardinals battle for first place

The women's basketball team is facing the same game in the same situation as last year as it faces the Toledo Rockets in a battle of Mid-American Conference West division co-leaders.

Last year, the two schools were tied for the division lead, but Toledo came into Worthen Arena and dominated the physically smaller Cardinal squad with powerful post play.

"We got caught up in the Toledo 'aura,'" head coach Tracy Roller said. "But when we went up to UConn (the No. 1 team in the country), we played in an 'aura game' and I felt we really competed."

While Toledo lost its best player, Kahli Carter, the Rockets (12-7 overall, 7-1 MAC) were still picked as preseason favorites for the MAC West crown. Despite the absence of Carter, the Rockets are still one of the strongest teams in the conference in post play, an area in which Ball State has struggled.

The Cardinals (15-4, 7-1), who out-scored Miami (Ohio) in the paint 32-14 Wednesday, will need to play the same type of tough defense against Toledo's post players. Against Miami, the Cards held Kim Lancaster -- who burned Ball State for 40 points last year -- to four points on 2-9 shooting.

But Toledo will bring more than just the same type of play that Miami possessed, especially with 6-foot-2-inch center Melantha Herron. She is the Rockets leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game. Still, it is the three-point shooting of the Rockets that many teams have overlooked. In Toledo's 71-65 upset of then No. 4 Duke University, they hit eight 3-pointers, including three from Courtney Risinger.

Against Miami, the Cardinals struggled with offense, only hitting 32 percent of their shots in the first half. And against the older, more experienced Toledo squad, the team will not be able to afford playing its characteristically slow-starting game.

"We just looking for some kind of consistency," junior Tamara Bowie said. "We just have to come out and play our game."

While Bowie is the reigning MAC Player of the Year, and is a leading candidate to repeat, a main strength for the team all year has been the play of its bench.

"Last year it was stop Bowie," Bowid said. "But this year you have to stop our team before you can stop me."

With freshman Kate Endress and junior Amy Zercher -- a two-year starter -- coming off the bench, Roller said many of the Cardinals are underestimated.

"I can go down the list," Roller said. "Most of the bench could be starters at other schools. But with Tamara and Shala getting a lot of the attention, people don't notice them. That's just not smart."

Still, Roller said the team can not rest on the fact that it won two tough matches, but rather continue to improve and "take care of business."

"If we can pull off three in a row, it will show how tough we are," Roller said. "We are only as good as the game we finished and the one we're preparing for."


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