WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Cardinals travel to Eastern Michigan in MAC contest
Containing explosive freshman is key for Ball State against Eastern Michigan
As Ball State travels to Ypsilanti to face Eastern Michigan, it can take pride in knowing that it’s allowing 54 points per game since it’s started MAC play.
The Cardinals don’t plan on letting up, despite the threat that Eastern Michigan’s Bianca Cage poses. Just a freshman, Cage is leading the Eagles starters in scoring with just over 10 points per game.
Even more impressive, she’s doing it with very limited minutes, averaging just 18 minutes per game.
“She’s playing really well right now, shooting the ball very well,” Ball State coach Brady Sallee said. “We’ve got to use multiple people on her and know where she is on the floor at all times.”
Cage’s play has been strong lately. Thursday night, she led her team to a win over Northern Illinois, scoring 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including nailing six 3-point shots. Just a few weeks ago, she scored 25 against Western Michigan.
Sallee thinks that stopping Cage may not be the main objective, but disrupting her game enough that she turns one of her normal games into an extraordinary one.
“It’s not necessarily about slowing her down, but just making sure that she can’t do more than what she’s been doing,” Sallee said. “If we can keep her at her average, I think it’ll go a long way to helping up with this game.”
Defensively, Ball State and Eastern Michigan share many similarities. The Eagles are giving up just 1.4 more points per game than the Cardinals, averages nearly 10 steals a game, and will test Ball State’s offense, which has scored 77 and 73 points in their last two games.
Ball State’s offensive attack is led by Nathalie Fontaine and Brandy Woody, who are both putting up over 12 points a game. Unlike some teams, Ball State hasn’t had a single player who’s carried the load in scoring throughout the season.
Each starter has led the team in scoring in different games this year. Thursday night, sophomore Shelbie Justice set a new career high with 20 points, knocking down four 3-pointers.
“I like to have a team that’s fairly well balanced. We want to be more concerned with what kind of shot we’re taking and less about who’s taking it.” Sallee said. “It’s an understanding of what we’re trying to do on offense and I think it makes us tougher to guard when we’ve got so many people who are capable of scoring out on the floor.”
As a team, Ball State has broken the 70-point mark just three times this season, but two of those times came in the Cardinals last two games. Eastern Michigan has allowed teams to match 70-points or higher four times.
As the team moves into the middle of conference play, it’s possible that Ball State is starting to come together on offense and play more efficiently than they did at the beginning of the season, when Fontaine was making her first starts in college.
“I think we’re starting to work at it more, going to the gym and shooting more. I know Nathalie (Fontaine) put in a lot of time outside practice and it’s paying off,” Sallee said. “I don’t want us to be satisfied. There’s always room for improvement, that’s the mentality I want our kids to have, to never settle.”