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Eastern Michigan Eagles vs. Ball State Cardinals MAC women's tournament preview: Who will be booking a trip to Saturday's finale?

It's time to get the MAC women's tourney down its nitty-gritty stages. It's officially time for the semifinals.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello the triple-bye Ball State Cardinals (17-12).

Later this afternoon we'll see if the long rest was a blessing or a curse in disguise when we'll see the Cards take the floor for the very first time in this tournament versus the Eastern Michigan Eagles (21-11). Ball State is looking to head back to Muncie on Saturday evening with an auto-bid to NCAA Tournament. But all that can be done tomorrow is securing their second straight birth into the MAC title game, which they lost to Akron last season.

In 18 conference games this year, Ball State boasts the MAC's second best defense, which gave up less than 56 points per game this season. Nathalie Fontaine is the Cardinals' leading scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game and has been the cornerstone to the MAC's fourth-best scoring offense, which averages 64 points a game. Fontaine is also grabbing seven rebounds per game and shooting at 49% on the season. Jill Morrison is the team's second leading scorer at 11.3 points per game and leads the Cards with nearly three assists per game. Other Cardinals to watch include Shelbie Justice, who averages almost 10 points per game, and Renee Bennett, who averages one block a game; good for fifth in the MAC.

Last season, Ball State was almost in the same situation that these Eagles are in. They were the five-seed and became the first MAC women's team ever to make it to the championship game by winning four games in five days in the current bracket format. This year, sixth-seeded EMU sits just one victory away from doing what many of the the current BSU players would have experienced a mere season ago.

Yesterday, Eastern Michigan defeated Akron by putting up 95 points, making a season high 15 triples and setting a school record for points in a MAC women's tournament game. They also allowed just two Akron players to reach more than five points, and kept the MAC's leading scorer, Sina King, who averages 20.3 points per game, to less than 10 in the second half. The Eagles also stopped the conference's top three point shooter, Anita Brown, from making a basket until more than half way through the first half.

During the MAC tourney, Eastern Michigan has used good second half defensive performances to help pull away in every game. Against both Kent State and Toledo, the Eagles used early second half runs to put those games out of reach. In the quarterfinal versus Akron, Eastern was just too much offensively and the Zips couldn't keep up. Cha Sweeney has scored team highs in all three tourney games, including 24 versus Akron and 29 in the win over Toledo. Senior forward Jamaica Bucknor has been a key player for EMU, providing much needed leadership and the spark the Eagles needed to get past Kent State in the first round.

The second-seeded Cardinals were 13-5 in the MAC this season, while the Eagles finished in a three-way tie for fourth place in the conference, with a record 11-7. The two teams also split two meetings this season, with the home team dropping both games. Ball State won the first matchup in Ypsilanti 72-62 on Feb. 11, where Fontaine scored 19 and pulled down 15 rebounds. The second matchup in Muncie, starred EMU's defense, which allowed only 41 points to Ball State in a 15 point win on Feb. 25. Sweeney scored 17 and recorded three steals in that victory.

The two teams will tip-off at around 2:30 pm Cleveland time, with the official start time depending on when the noon semifinal between fourth-seeded Buffalo and top-seeded Ohio ends. When that one does draw to a close, the BSU-EMU semi will begin 30 minutes later.

You can watch both the MAC men's and women's semifinals tomorrow on ESPN3 with a valid cable subscription. If you're on the go, WEMU 89.1 FM Ypsilanti will be on the scene, along with Ball State's radio call on WCRD 91.3 FM stationed in Muncie.

Team Leaders

Player Ball State Eastern Michigan
Points Per Game N. Fontaine (16.3) C. Sweeney (16.5)
Rebounds Per Game N. Fontaine (7.0) B. Puni (6.6)
Assists Per Game J. Morrison (2.8) C. Sweeney (3.6)
Blocks Per Game S. Justice (1.0) B. Puni (0.8)
Steals Per Game J. Morrison (1.4) J. Morton (2.1)