During the semester interim, head coach Tracy Roller was sitting in a hotel room pondering how to make the women's basketball team play good defense. Nearly three months later, however, she has no more questions to answer.
After holding Central Michigan to 32.8 percent shooting Saturday, the Cardinals walked away with a 80-58 victory for the team's final home game of the season and a school-record 20th win.
"(The team's defense) has exceeded my expectations," Roller said. "We never gave up on it. We just kept working on it. It has gotten better than I ever thought we could get, and it's going to win us some games just like it has all year."
For the entire game, Ball State's guards pressured Central's, forcing more than 20 turnovers and grabbing 16 steals. Junior Tamara Bowie stepped out of her usual "shoot-and-score-only" style of play and recorded four steals by playing Central's passing lanes to near perfection. Bowie also led the game with 18 points.
"When Bowie has 18 points in 20 minutes, and she actually guards for the whole game," Roller said. "I thought the ceiling might fall in, or there might be some lightning strikes or something.
"People think I'm crazy, but Tamara Bowie has not reached her potential. And she really showed that today."
Central Michigan (10-16 overall, 2-13 Mid-American Conference) tried to counter Ball State's physical play with a full-court and half-court press. The Cardinals (20-6, 12-3), however, continually beat the press with short, quick passes to find open players around the perimeter for good looks at the basket.
"We tried to press them a few times and force them into turnovers," Central head coach Eileen Kleinfelter said. "But they took care of the ball pretty well. Their passing was exceptional."
Freshman Kate Endress was at the end of many of the passes to the perimeter, and she found the open looks and hit key baskets during the Cardinals' 20-0 run in the second half that put the game out of reach for the Chippewas.
"I've improved a lot moving without the basketball," Endress said. "But you've got to credit your teammates for giving you the pass. (The team) was doing a good job seeing the open person."
Endress' 16 points led the Cardinals' bench, as it out-scored Central's bench 21-8 and out-rebounded it 14-4 behind junior Amy Zercher's seven boards, including three offensive.
"We are the ultimate of teams," Roller said. "We are very unselfish. At any point we have four players in double figures, and most of the time, they aren't the same four players. We've had five MAC Players of the Week. I don't know how I would guard us if I was the opponent."
Roller subbed in for the starter with more than seven minutes to play in the game, allowing Central Michigan to make a slight run, narrowing the points differential. But it did little good, as Ball State's substitutes kept the Chips from mounting any serious charge.
"(Ball State) is bigger. They're stronger. They're quicker than us," Kleinfelter said. "We were never really in the basketball game and I am just happy we didn't lose by 30 points."