“How many times did you see two or three white jerseys [Ball State] crash in the air,” head coach Brady Sallee said. “Not on the floor, in the air, going after rebounds. That is a team that cares.”
Sallee was not wrong, the Ball State Women’s basketball team was crashing in the air with each other, diving on the ground, and going to get every rebound possible. It was a significant factor in the Cardinals' win over Saint Louis 85-51.
After the last game against Western Kentucky University, Ball State was able to pull away with a win, but coach Sallee mentioned the rebounding would have to improve.
Against the Billiken, that rebounding game did change. Ball State outrebounded the Billiken 45 to 29.
“Understand if we'll do all that [defensivly], the scoring will take care of itself,” Sallee said. “Like we'll score points, we've got enough good players to take care of that. We have to rebound and we have to defend and we have to follow plans and game plans, and when we do, we can defend at the level that we did today.”
There was one particular moment that stuck with Sallee on defense.
“I’m telling you one of the biggest plays in the game was made by freshmen Sydney Bolden when she took the charge on [Saint Loius' Kyla] McMakin and got her third foul,” Sallee said. “At that moment we seized control of the game and really never looked back so you know in the heat of that battle to see a freshman do that was huge.”
A key part of that offense is graduate student Thelma Dis Agustsdottir. She had 17 points and was 5-of-6 (83 percent) from the three-point line.
“I'm just getting the shots that are getting open and my teammates were finding me well,” Dis Agustsdottir said. “The drive into the paint and kick outs were wide open and I was just letting them fly.”
After starting slowly from the three-point line this season, Dis Agustsdottir has turned things around.
“It was just a matter of time,” Sallee said. “Honestly, I would laugh with some of my staff that I feel bad for the team that she breaks it out on because it's gonna come fast and furious. It's easy to trust someone that puts in the amount of time to be a good shooter as Thelma does. All we talk about is trusting our execution and shots will go in and shots won’t, but if we keep getting them we know we're going to make them. I think everybody from top to bottom in our program trusts number 10 beyond that three-point line for sure.”
Redshirt senior Anna Clephane was also a huge on-court presence. Clephane was actually the one who was seen multiple times diving for loose rebounds and going coast-to-coast on fast breaks. She would finish with 16 points, four rebounds, one steal and one assist.
“I think that we work well when we get those offensive rebounds, and obviously we're pretty good transition,” Clephane said. “If they stop us going on the inside then we have those kick-out threes and it works really well together.”
It was not just Dis Agustsdottir and Clephane though, the whole team was involved in tonight’s game. The Cardinals shot 50.8 percent from the field, 40.9 percent from three and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line.
With the increased defensive pressure and a growing lead, Ball State was able to sub in an essentially whole new five for the fourth quarter.
“Here's the thing, like they [the bench] scored at the same rate,” Sallee said. “We scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. So we look the same, we just had a couple of different jerseys out there and that kind of thing. We see it every day and we know what's there. It was it's good to have these kinds of situations where they can come in and they can kind of play freely.”
The Billiken proved strong on defense as well, in fact, they have the nation’s leading blocker. Senior Brooke Flowers has 48 blocks already in the season, the closest behind her is Jada Rice from Alabama with 24.
Sallee mentioned the preparation that went into preparing for a player like Flowers. He mentioned how assistant coach Moriah Monaco coaches the bigs for Ball State and how the players just had to be aware of Flowers’s ability. He also talked about how the offense of five-out pulled Flowers away from the basket so she could not camp at the basket.
“I felt like the combination of how locked in we were to how we had to play and the system that we run, gave us a good shot at playing against a shot blocker of her caliber,” Sallee said.
Ball State will now shift its attention to in-state opponent IUPUI, who will be in Worthen Arena Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m.
“Really we've had a saying for a long time here, 1-0 today,” Sallee said. “So really, these guys understand that tomorrow we'll come in, we'll watch the film on this game, we'll put it to bed, and then we'll flip the script and it'll be like we've not played any games and everything is about IUPUI.”