Rockets keep rolling in 68-48 win over OhioWritten by Mike Bauman | | email@example.com
One of the oldest sports clichés in the book is that defense wins championships, and the Mid-American Conference-leading Rockets are proving that with each game. Toledo held visiting Ohio to 36.5 percent shooting and forced 24 turnovers Feb. 12 in a 68-48 drubbing of the Bobcats at Savage Arena for its’ ninth-straight home win. The victory also marked the third year in a row that the Rockets have won 10 consecutive conference games.
“All week long, I really felt like our defense was starting to slide a little bit,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said. “Against Miami, our transition defense wasn’t up to par. I thought this week, what we were able to do was tune up our defense and really do a nice job against a team that I think is very quick and drives the hole exceptionally well.
“I thought we played great defense, and I was really proud of the fact that we shared the ball so well offensively, and also with connecting on our three’s.”
Toledo (18-6, 10-1 MAC) shot 49.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from behind the arc against Ohio (7-17, 3-8 MAC) as two Rockets reached double figures in scoring. Junior guard Naama Shafir led all scorers with a game-high 17 points, while senior guard Jessica Williams finished with 12 points, hitting four-of-six attempts from the three-point line. Senior forward Melissa Goodall barely missed a triple-double with nine points, nine rebounds and a career-high eight assists.
“I think our players are starting to understand what people are going to do,” Cullop said. “A lot of people want to trap and give double coverage to Naama Shafir, so we’ve spent a lot of time in practice working on making the extra pass. A lot of people look at Melissa Goodall and say, ‘Let’s send two people her direction.’ Well, Melissa’s really worked on her passing. Tonight, she has eight assists.
“I’m sure there are probably some things that we’re going to face in the future that we may not be completely prepared for, but every week our staff does our very best to try to throw different things at our team so that they’re prepared for just about everything we’ve seen so far.”
The Rockets opened up an early 10-2 lead by the 14:44 mark of the first half as sophomore forward Lecretia Smith paced Toledo with six points. The Bobcats battled back to make it a 12-7 contest with 11:58 remaining in the period after a three-pointer from Erin Bailes. From that point, the Rockets went on an 11-0 run to take a 23-7 lead by the 9:30 mark after Williams hit her second trey of that stretch.
“I think we played pretty well from start to finish,” Goodall said. “We knew that we couldn’t come out here and just expect to win this game and knew they were going to give us a fight, so we wanted to be focused from the start and carry on through and prove that we got better this week.”
Toledo outscored Ohio 20-17 the rest of the half to take a 43-24 lead by the break. The Rockets shot 53.1 percent from the field and 60 percent from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes of play, connecting on six-of-10 attempts from the three-point line. Toledo scored 13 points off the Bobcats’ eight turnovers and was led by Shafir’s 11 points.
“We were getting really good looks, and thankfully we were pretty hot for the most part,” Goodall said. “When your shots are falling, your shots are falling, and it’s a little bit contagious sometimes.”
In the second half, the Rockets led by as many as 25 as they cruised to the 20-point victory. Even with the conference’s best record, Toledo says it is still as motivated as ever with five MAC games remaining on the regular season schedule.
“A lot of our players have never been in this position before, and they want more than anything to leave a legacy here,” Cullop said. “I think our seniors are doing a great job of kind of laying the groundwork for that. I think our seniors last year did the same, but we’re continuing to try to take steps in the right direction to build this program where we want it to be.
“We’re far from being there yet, and every week we try to look back and watch a lot of film and remind them of all the things that went wrong just as much as the things that went right because we’ve got to keep our ego in check every week.”
The Rockets will be in action again on Feb. 16 when they face Western Michigan (7-17, 3-8 MAC) at 7 p.m. in Savage Arena.