WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Ball State hosts Western Michigan in MAC Tournament opener

Cardinals have beaten Broncos twice this season

A season full of ups and downs, frustration and disappointment, learning and growing pains culminates today at Worthen Arena in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament.

For the Ball State University women's basketball team (13-16, 7-9 MAC) and Western Michigan University (9-20, 4-12 MAC) everything is on the line. A win means advancing to Cleveland for the quarterfinals, while a loss ends the season.

"This is where I trust that some of our tournament experience pays off. We have Danielle, Emily, Audrey that participated in our tournament run last year," coach Kelly Packard said. "They understand what the atmosphere is and the stake is on the game. I hope that experience rises to the surface."

The Cardinals have won two of their last three and ride the momentum of an emotional Senior Night, in which they celebrated the careers of Danielle Gratton and Audrey McDonald. The win earlier this week over Central Michigan University saw five Cardinals in double digits.

"I think it's important that we prepare for Western Michigan like any other game, although it's typical to throw something else in that no one has seen yet this year," Packard said. "Particularly since this is the third time we've seen each other this season."

Emily Maggert leads Ball State with 17.6 points a game and 10.9 boards. The junior forward ranks in the top five nationally with 19 double-doubles on the season. McDonald adds 12.3 points a contest to help the Cardinals offensively.

"I obviously have players who have tournament experience and not just MAC Tournament experience, but actual post-season NCAA Tournament experience," Packard said.

The Broncos lead the all-time series by one game, 32-31 with the Cardinals having won the last six. The six game win streak against Western Michigan dates back to the 2007-08 season and includes a 78-62 victory in Kalamazoo Feb. 20 by Ball State.

The Cardinals hold a 9-5 record at Worthen Arena this season. Packard feels that playing at home will be a big advantage for Ball State.

"We have an immediate confidence here that we don't usually have some place else," Packard said. "We had a tremendous crowd Tuesday night. It makes such a big difference for atmosphere, energy, and confidence for our players. If we fall behind and you make two big plays the crowd reacts and it's just priceless."

Western Michigan is led by Miame Giden who puts up 14.5 points a game and Ebony Cleary who scores 10.5 a game.

"We've had tremendous leadership," Packard said. "We haven't had someone take the emotional reigns and display that leadership on the floor consistently. You can't flip a switch and make that happen for someone. It's in a person's personality. I can do that on the sideline, but I can't step onto the court and do it for them. I don't care where it comes from as long as it comes from somewhere. I think that's going to be important for us in the MAC Tournament."

The winner of Ball State and Western Michigan heads to Cleveland to face the University of Toledo, the MAC West Division regular season champion.