SOUTH BEND, Ind.– Post-game, Ball State Women’s Basketball head coach Brady Sallee was respectful towards his opponent. He was joking around about opposing fans “catcalling him," not as upset as one would think following a 35-point loss.
“I love putting my team in adversity, and I think we learn so much more about ourselves in those moments than if we just go out, pad our schedule, go 12-1 and it's fool's gold. But we didn't come up here just for tricks and treats,” Sallee said. “We came up here to try to win a basketball game, and I think my team's disappointed that we weren't in it at the end, but they're smart enough and we'll learn a lot from this one, but [we’ve] gotta be consistent.”
The Cardinals (2-2) took on in-state opponent, No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0), and fell 95-60. Despite the blowout loss, Sallee and players alike found positives in playing a program as highly regarded as the Fighting Irish.
“You want to go play in the NCAA Tournament, we want to go win our league, we want to get there, [and] this is what it's like, you play these kinds of teams,” Sallee said. “I think there's a lot you get out of it if you go play right, and I thought we really tried to play right. We didn't all of a sudden start jacking [up] shots and getting silly with stuff, we took care of the ball, we executed, we got the shots that we're trying to get.”
Yes, the Cardinals were outrebounded (50-24), again.
Yes, the Cardinals were outscored by 35 points.
Yes, before the game began, the Fighting Irish inducted Katryna Gaither into their Ring of Honor and green glow sticks were scattered throughout the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, setting the scene for a Notre Dame victory.
“There was a special [feeling like], ‘Hey, we're going to play Notre Dame,’” Sallee said. “You get the butterflies in your belly and all those kinds of things, and if [you don’t], you're not a competitor.”
However, it didn’t exactly start that way.
With 6:36 to go in the first quarter, the Cardinals led 11-6, as sophomore Madelyn Bischoff scored nine of Ball State’s first 11 points.
“If they're gonna leave me open, I want to shoot it and not be afraid,” Bischoff said. “So [I] definitely just tried to be aggressive and then tried to kick out to my teammates…We just need to be tough and aggressive and just keep trying to make the right plays.”
While the lead was short-lived for the Cardinals, Bischoff finished with 15 points. She said it was difficult to guard and play against players like sophomore guard Olivia Miles and grad student guard Dara Mabrey, but enjoying it.
“It's very tough, but I find it fun because I wouldn't say they're famous, but they're very well known, so it was honestly cool to just play against and keep a close game [in the] first half,” Bischoff said. “I just thought that really showed a lot [about] our team.”
Mabrey scored 19, dropping five three-pointers. Miles scored 13 points, dished out 11 assists and grabbed seven rebounds.
Speaking of the former First Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) member, Sallee said it was especially tough to run press defense against Notre Dame, as Miles especially plays at a different speed than any other opponent Ball State will see all season.
“Miles makes it really tough, on top of her size, she can see over a lot of our traps and then I thought they made us get squirrely in our press [defense],” Sallee said. “All the sudden we were making rotations that we don't do…You give Notre Dame some credit and our kids are trying to play hard, but we turned them over 23 times. That was one thing I'll come out of this feeling pretty good about.”
Along with winning the turnover battle 23-15, Sallee said Thelma Dis Agustsdottir’s 3-5 three-point shooting performance was like “prayers being answered”, as the grad student shot 1-21 in the first three games of the season. Dis Agustsdottir said while her performance against the Fighting Irish was a relief, she wished it would have done more to help the Cardinals win.
Dis Agustsdottir said throughout her struggles in the season so far, she has worked with coaches to find other ways to help the team, such as attacking the basket, setting good screens, getting rebounds, etc. She talked about the importance of defense and winning the turnover battle in the last three games.
“It's been talked about since [the] beginning of the year [when] we started practice,” Dis Agustsdottir said. “We need to take care of the ball, and if we do that, we'll be good. It allows us to play faster and makes it easier for us to get up and defend.”
Dis Agustsdottir said at some points during the game, especially when Notre Dame went on long scoring runs, it was tough to keep the same energy and fast pace the Cardinals try to play at. She said coaches and players had to talk about keeping positive body language.
While she has been in the program since 2018-19, playing against teams such as Purdue, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, Dis Agustsdottir said she has never played against a team as talented as the Fighting Irish.
“No, nothing I can remember,” Dis Agustsdottir said. “It was a great experience, a great environment to play in, and I think this was a game that all of us were really looking forward to play in.”
Sallee said the Cardinals had the same routine for preparation for this game as always, but admitted how tough it was knowing the caliber of play Notre Dame is at, and the in-state aspect that affected many players, such as Bischoff.
“It meant a lot to me,” Bischoff said. “Growing up, I went to a Catholic school [Roncalli High School], so Notre Dame was a huge school growing up. I thought it was really cool to play there and just see it again.”
The Cardinals return to action Wednesday, when they take on Utah State (1-3) in Logan, Utah, at 4 p.m. ET.