Early Bird: Despite loss, Cards showed heart

Good day. Let’s get down to business…

In my preview of last night’s matchup between the dominant Bowling Green Falcons and struggling Ball State Cardinals, I wasn’t fooling anyone by saying that the visiting Falcons were rolling on all cylinders.

The odds were heavily against the Cardinals. They were up against a team that has been notoriously consistent in winning over the years. The Falcons are the seven-time defending Mid-American Conference Champions. Falcons’ coach Curt Miller had 250 career-wins as BG’s coach heading into the game as opposed to just 56 wins for Ball State coach Kelly Packard. Miller, a five-time MAC Coach of Year recipient, is the third-winningest coach in MAC women’s basketball history during league competition. To add to his accolades, Miller became the fastest MAC coach to reach 200 wins.

As a team, the Falcons have three players who averaged 10 or more points per game, including junior guard and Carmel, Ind. native Chrissy Steffen (14.6 points/game), sophomore forward and Duke transfer Alexis Rogers (12.5 points/game) and senior guard Jessica Slagle (10.6 points/game). That’s a tough lineup to matchup against when your leading scorer, sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens averaged 10.7 points heading into the game.

But the young Cardinals held their own against the mighty Falcons. Despite trailing by 17 at the half, the Cardinals held a two-point advantage in points in the paint, second chance points and drew even with their opponents in rebounds, with 15.

Their inability to make easy buckets at opportune times plagued the Cardinals all night long, along with the multitude of lousy turnovers. On many occasions, the Cardinals turned the ball over on a baseline out-of-bounds play, which resulted in points the other way.

“Our kids battled to the end,” Packard said, following the game. “They were at one point up [a lot]. The fact that we closed it down means that we didn’t give up. That’s important right now. They’re 7-0. That’s as best as it gets in the MAC right now. There was a point there where we could have really folded, and we didn’t.”

It was a loss that was expected. In fact, it was believed that the Cardinals should’ve lost by wider margin than the actual 11-point margin once the final buzzer sounded.

But winning is more than just a mindset. It’s an attitude. It’s a culture, a way of life. Taking care of the little things builds a foundation for success. The Cardinals have an assortment of young talent, which makes it difficult to rack up a bunch of wins. This team is and will continue to suffer through a vast amount of growing pains, but the future looks bright.

Early Bird: Zips lead 43-31 at halftime

Following its previous game at Toledo on Thursday night, Ball State was envisioned holding Akron in check on the boards and underneath the basket, but a late surge gave the visitors a 43-31 lead as the first half came to a close.

The Cardinals started off strong against the Zips. Sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens missed a long-range jumper, but classmate forward Katie Murphy snagged the rebound, pivoted, and made the layup with 16:42 remaining in the half. Just 38 seconds later, Murphy grabbed another board and made the routine layup to give the Cardinals a 10-7 lead.

But the Zips came roaring back thanks in large part to sophomore guard/forward Sina King, who led both teams with 10 points and tied for the lead with five rebounds. Time after time King was dealt uncontested looks at the basket, resulting in easy buckets for the Zips.

To cap the first half, Zips’ senior guard Natasha Williams dribbled through the entire Cardinals’ defense en route to the basket where she would ultimately make the layup and draw a foul with 1.6 seconds to go before halftime.

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From press row…The Cardinals and Zips are sit to tip off in under a half hour here at Worthen Arena. I thought I would go ahead and share a few pieces of noteworthy information with you pertaining to today’s game.

  • Despite owning an overall record of 8-11, Akron’s offense is ranked in the top 25 in virtually every category. Akron is 22nd in field goal percentage (.439), 21st in scoring offense (74.8 points/game) and 25th in 3-point field goals made per game (6.9).
  • The Zips lead the Mid-American Conference in scoring offense, field goal percentage, 3-point field goals made per game and assists (15.7/game). The Zips rank second in the MAC with a 0.8 assist/turnover ratio.
  • Junior guard Taylor Ruper ranks 11th in the country in 3-point field goals made per game (3.0) and 17th in 3-point field goal percentage (.422).
  • Coach Kelly Packard said the most important thing for her team to do this afternoon is to defend the transition game. “We need to continue to protect our home court as we begin MAC East divisional play,” Packard said, according to the official game notes. “Akron has a balanced scoring attack fed largely in part by their transition offense. Subtracting transition baskets will be a core focus of our team defense.”

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Good evening and welcome to this edition of the Early BirdA 63-48 loss at Mid-American Conference Western Division rival Toledo capped a dismal two-game road swing for Ball State. A horrid shooting average of 26 percent combined with poor interior defense resulted in more frustration for this young team.

But unlike other sports, such as football, where a team must sit on a loss for an entire week before getting another opportunity to win, basketball, in some instances, is played multiple times per week.

Ball State returns to Worthen Arena, with another chance to muster out a win when it plays host to Eastern Division foe Akron at 1 p.m.

The Zips enter today’s game having dropped three of their last five games. In their latest game, the Zips lost a heartbreaker, 72-71 in overtime at conference opponent Ohio. Despite the loss, three Zips reached double figures in scoring, including sophomore guard Sina King, who notched a team-leading 15 points, junior guard Taylor Ruper, who recorded 14 points and sophomore guard Hanna Luburgh, who tallied 12 points. King also led the Zips with 16 boards in the loss.

Playing at Worthen has been advantageous for the Cardinals over the last few seasons. Since coach Kelly Packard’s inaugural season in 2008, the Cardinals are 37-18 during the regular season at home and 20-7 at home during conference games. In their nine home games this season, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by 11 points.

The Cardinals have dropped two of their last three games to the Zips. In 2008-09, the Cardinals came away with a 61-55 road win. In 2009-10, the Zips clung to a 66-64 overtime win at Worthern. And last season, the Zips cruised to a 78-65 home victory.

Ball State currently finds itself in a two-way tie with Western Michigan for fourth place in the Western Division standings. Both the Cardinals and Broncos will tipoff this afternoon. A win would draw the Cardinals closer in the division, while a loss would sink them even further.

Early Bird: Road woes continue for Cardinals

Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of the Early Bird (or in this case another edition of necessary roughness)…The Ball State women’s basketball team dropped their third straight Mid-American Conference road game, a 63-48 defeat at Toledo on Thursday night. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicated, resulting in another disheartening outing for coach Kelly Packard and her team.

The stat that told the game was the differential in shooting percentage. The Rockets shot an impressive 48 percent from the floor, while the Cardinals tallied an inexcusable 26 percent, their worst shooting percentage of the season. You have to go back to February 27, 2010 to find the last time the Cardinals recorded that low of a shooting percentage. It was against those same Rockets. The Cardinals shot 26.4 percent from the field and lost in similar fashion, 62-48.

Packard said her teams’ post defense struggled considerably to contain the Rockets’ offense.

“Really poor,” Packard said. “We gave up a 20-point night on 9-for-10 shooting to Yolanda Richardson. We actually did a lot of things well defensively, but in that area, we didn’t do well at all. I felt like our team defense outside of the post was actually pretty good tonight.”

Richardson was a concern for Packard and her staff heading into the game. Due to injuries to freshman Neschelle Williams (ankle) and Katie Murphy (ankle), Packard started senior co-captain forward Suzanne Grossnickle and sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens at the interior post positions. Murphy did see some playing time, but was limited. Senior co-captain center Amber Crago also was part of the rotation, but despite being the tallest player on the team (6-foot-3), Crago was virtually invisible. The forward combination was the most disappointing group of players on the floor for Ball State. Grossnickle, Hitchens, Murphy and Crago went a combined 4-for-21 from the field and just 1-for-5 from long range.

Moving on…Packard said if her team played any post defense whatsoever, they would’ve been in the game. While tracking the entire game against the Rockets, I don’t see how that is even remotely possible. The Cardinals weren’t even close to being in the game. Even if they had played aggressively in the post, they couldn’t score to save their lives. Shooting 26 percent from the field is insulting. Sure they’re a young team, but there have been times where this young group of players has excelled. In their 78-73 double overtime triumph over visiting Stetson on Dec. 4, the Cardinals shot 47.3 percent from the field. In their 81-72 defeat over visiting Murray State on Nov. 19, the Cardinals shot 53.8 percent from the floor. This team is certainly capable of scoring points and the dismal shooting percentage versus the Rockets is unacceptable.

Moving on…On Friday, Ball State athletic director Tom Collins, who has held his position since January 2006, announced he will step down when his contract expires in June. Collins, who has been viewed by many as a poor leader, said he is leaving due to family reasons. That could be so. But there certainly could be more to the story than what meets the naked eye. Trying to determine other possible reasons for Collins’ sudden decision are few and far between. But speculation always emerges in a story like this. It could be due Pete Lembo, who Collins hired as head coach of the football program in December of 2010. Lembo, who has created a lot of new energy within the program, is said to have also butted heads with many in athletics. Of course, this is all pure speculation. Let’s not jump off the cliff here. The university could also be covering up something bigger. Again, complete speculation. But it’ll be intriguing to see if there is more to it than Collins is leading us to believe.

Moving on…Grossnickle received votes for MAC Player of the Week honors. Grossnickle, a Belleville East High, Ill., alum, executed a tremendous 3-point play late in the second half against Northern Illinois on Jan. 11, which enabled the Cardinals to hold on for the 50-43 victory. She scored 10 points in 10 minutes of playing time against the Huskies while also recording 11 points and seven rebounds at Central Michigan in a 84-66 loss on Jan. 14. Over her last three games, Grossnickle has gone 8-for-19 from the field, 2-for-5 from 3-point range and a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. It would be huge for Grossnickle to heat up for the Cardinals as they look to rebound from here on out.

Moving on…The Cardinals return to Worthen Arena following a dissatisfying two-game road trip, where they were outscored 147-114. The Cardinals will host Eastern Division rival Akron at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Akron was dealt a heartbreaking 72-71 loss at Ohio on Thursday. Three Zips reached double figures in scoring, including sophomore guard Sina King (15 points), junior guard Taylor Ruper (14 points) and sophomore guard Hanna Luburgh (12 points). King also led the team with 16 boards in the loss. The Zips own an 8-11 overall record and are 2-3 in the MAC. The Zips are 1-2 on the road during conference play this season.

Outlook: Surprisingly, the Cardinals are a perfect 2-for-2 on their home floor during conference play this season, which makes this game all the more important for this team, which desperately needs a win to stay in contention. Murphy will likely play against the Zips, but Williams remains questionable. Murphy, Grossnickle and Crago will need to elevate their game for the Cardinals to win. Also, the team must get more clean looks at the basket.

That’s all for now…

Thanks for reading,

-Poz

Morning Bird: Cards host Northern Illinois in pivotal MAC game

Good evening and welcome to the first edition of the Early Bird in 2012….

After a disappointing handful of games over the holiday break, which included four losses to just one win, Ball State (6-9, 1-1) returns to John E. Worthen Arena for pivotal Mid-American Conference game against Northern Illinois (6-8, 0-2) tonight at 7 p.m.

The Cardinals are 1-4 in their last five games and have dropped six of their last nine since they put together a three-game winning streak earlier this season. Losses include a 67-53 defeat to visiting Valparaiso on Dec. 18, an 80-39 thrashing from No. 14 Wisconsin-Green Bay on Dec. 20, a 60-58 home loss to Marshall on Dec. 31 and their latest defeat, a 76-64 loss at conference foe Western Michigan on Sunday.

Nonetheless, coach Kelly Packard is anxious to return to Worthern, where she owns a 19-7 record against conference opponents since the start of her tenure at Ball State in 2008-09.

“Being able to hold serve at home in when you’re in your conference is such a must, quite honestly,” Packard said. “The road is tough.”

The Cardinals are looking to put a string of wins together after dropping four of their last five games. In order to do so, Packard said her team must control the boards on both sides of the court.

“It’s kind of been a drum I’ve been beating and will continue to beat throughout the rest of the season,” Packard said. “When we rebound well, we usually position to win at the finish line. That’s a theme for us. We’ve responded to my plea for rebounding at certain times, certainly against Eastern Michigan. [They] outrebounded us by one, but that’s a team that outrebounds their opponents by eight. I said to our girls today that rebounding is a season specific topic. We can’t win if we don’t rebound the ball.”

Moving on…

It could be tough for the Cardinals to score from beyond the arc as the Huskies are the best team in the MAC in 3-point field goal percentage defense, yielding just over 26-percent long range jumpers to their opponents. Despite the Huskies’ impressive statistic, the Cardinals have a duo of players who have shined from beyond the arc this season. Freshman guard Brittany Carter currently ranks second in the MAC with a 44.6 shooting-percentage from long range, while sophomore forward Jazmin Hitchens is fourth in the conference with a 40.6 3-point field goal percentage.

That’s all for now…

 

 

 

Spagnuolo and Devaney to be fired

Its 34-27 loss to division rival San Francisco appears to have been the final straw for St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney. According to Chris Mortenson of ESPN, the Rams are expected to fire Spagnuolo and Devaney as early as Monday.

Spagnuolo crafted a mark of 10-38 in three seasons as the Rams coach, which perhaps made owner Stan Kroenke’s decision of whether to retain the current regime or opt to go in a new direction, much easier.

The Rams finished the season with a record of 2-14, tying the Indianapolis Colts for the worst record in the National Football League. Due to the Colts having an easier schedule, the Rams will get the second overall pick in April’s Draft.