Shafir shines in 73-65 win over AkronWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
At this point in the season it’s win or go home, and big-time players make big-time plays down the stretch to help their team advance. That’s exactly what Toledo junior guard Naama Shafir did on Mar. 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, scoring a game-high 28 points as the No. 1-seeded Rockets defeated gritty No.8-seeded Akron 73-65 in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
“They’re better than an eighth seed,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said of the Zips, who led Toledo by as many as eight at one point in the contest. “They’re a young team that I thought got better and better as the season went along. They gave us all that we could handle.”
Shafir routinely got into the paint against Akron (14-16), finishing eight-of-16 from the field and 12-of-16 from the free throw line. Sophomore center and Start graduate Yolanda Richardson also had a big game for Toledo (23-7), finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocks.
“I was proud of our players for continuing to attack the basket,” Cullop said. “We had to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. That became our best offense, and luckily we were connecting, but I’m really proud of both these ladies sitting beside me because I thought Yolanda had one of her best all-around games—on the boards, scoring and then the shot-blocking ability. I thought [she] did a great job, and Naama just played absolutely tremendous tonight.
“She put us on her back and really did a great job of commanding the floor.”
In the first half, Shafir hit a floater in the lane right after the opening tip to give the Rockets a early 2-0 lead. Toledo eventually built a 12-6 lead by the 16:09 mark after freshman guard Andola Dortch found senior forward Melissa Goodall for the layup. Shafir’s layup with 7:29 remaining in the first half gave the Rockets their largest lead as they went up 26-17.
However, the Zips answered with a 13-0 run by the 2:55 mark to take a 30-26 lead. Richardson ended Toledo’s scoring draught when her layup with 1:28 left in the opening period made it 30-28, and she scored four more down the stretch to make it 32-all by halftime. The Rockets outscored Akron 20-14 in the paint, but the Zips had eight points off Toledo’s six turnovers and also outscored UT’s bench by a 13-6 margin in the first 20 minutes of play.
“We just talked about how we needed to focus back, pay attention to details and play hard with energy because in the first half for awhile they were scoring,” Shafir said. “We didn’t have any energy, and we talked about how we had to come back and play hard.”
Akron started the second half with an 8-0 run, receiving two three-pointers from Taylor Ruper in the process to take a 40-32 lead and prompt Cullop to call a timeout.
“To their credit, Akron runs a million sets,” Cullop said of the Rockets’ slow second half start. “We just weren’t talking defensively and kind of got out of whack a little bit, but I really thought the big thing in that timeout was just to settle down, start getting stops defensively and everyone step up to the plate and start being aggressive.”
Shafir ended the Zips’ run with a driving layup with 17:26 left to play, then got the and-one on her lay-in on her next attempt to make it a 41-37 ballgame. At the 15:29 mark, Shafir scored her seventh consecutive point of the half when her layup made it 41-39. With 14:19 remaining, Dortch’s layup tied the game at 43 apiece.
Akron stormed back with a 7-0 run to lead 50-43 by the 13:03 mark, but junior guard Courtney Ingersoll hit a trey from the left wing to make it 50-46 with 12:18 remaining on the clock. The Rockets outscored the Zips 7-2 from that point and took a 53-52 lead after Richardson battled for the rebound and got the putback layup at the 7:20 mark.
“I think I was focused from the time I woke up this morning,” Richardson said. “I came out with my head on ready to play.”
On Toledo’s next possession Shafir made another layup, got fouled and missed the subsequent free throw as the Rockets extended their lead to 55-52. Ruper hit another three-pointer with 3:44 left in the contest to close the gap and make it 58-57, but Toledo outscored Akron 15-8 the rest of the way to hang on for the victory and advance to the semifinals.
The Rockets will play Eastern Michigan (21-11) at 2:30 p.m. on Mar. 11.