Williams’ trey helps UT advance in WNITWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
On Mar. 16 at Savage Arena, senior guard Jessica Williams was facing the sobering reality of playing her last game in a Toledo uniform as Elena Delle Donne’s Delaware squad held a 51-43 lead with 3:15 to play in the Rockets’ first round matchup with the Blue Hens in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament. While former top high school prospect Delle Donne had a game-high 31 points, Williams got the last laugh.
Williams hit a three-pointer with 2:35 left to make it 51-48, then nailed the go-ahead trey with 53 seconds left as Toledo held on for the 58-55 victory.
“As a senior, you always want to keep playing,” Williams said. “Coach [Cullop] always talks about playing every game like it’s our last. That’s basically my mindset. I know I got into foul trouble early, but I put all my energy that I could when I was sitting on the bench into my teammates and told them to keep pushing.”
Williams finished with nine points for the Rockets. Sophomore center and Start graduate Yolanda Richardson led UT with a team-high 14 points and nine rebounds, while freshman guard Andola Dortch had 13 points for Toledo.
“I’m so proud of our team,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said. “The one thing that was probably sickening to us as we left the Eastern Michigan game was to know that their gameplan was to take Naama out of the game and challenge other people to beat them and we didn’t. We didn’t have other people step up. I thought Yolanda tried to step up in the Eastern Michigan game, but she was left alone.
“I thought they did whatever it took to win [tonight].”
Junior guard Naama Shafir finished with eight points and four assists against Delaware, finding many of her teammates for open looks.
“The entire game we talked about how if we penetrate, we have to move and try to be in a spot that we can pass, and they did a great job,” Shafir said. “They were open. They made it easier for me, and they made the shots. It doesn’t matter who makes the shot if we win at the end of the day.”
In the first half, the Blue Hens (20-14) jumped out to an early 6-0 lead by the 17:56 mark after a pair of free throws from Lauren Carra. The Rockets (24-8) countered with a 5-0 run to make it 6-5 after a lay-in from senior forward Melissa Goodall and a trey from Shafir. Junior guard Haylie Linn gave Toledo its’ first lead of the game when her jumper made it 9-8 with 14:07 remaining in the period.
Seven-straight points from Delle Donne gave Delaware a 15-12 advantage by the 11:28 mark, but Richardson responded by scoring six of the Rockets’ next nine points to help Toledo regain the lead and make it 21-19 with 6:12 left before the half. The Rockets outscored the Blue Hens 8-4 from that point to take a 29-23 advantage into halftime.
“I think Yolanda realizes the season’s coming to an end and she can do something about it,” Cullop said. “I was so impressed with her intensity. I thought she fought incredibly hard tonight on the boards.”
Delaware outscored the Rockets 6-5 to start the second half, but Richardson’s bucket from the low block made it 36-29 at the 16:41 mark. Despite good defense from Goodall, Delle Donne responded by hitting a three-pointer on the Blue Hens’ ensuing possession to make it 36-32, then made a difficult jumper off the glass with 13:51 to go to cut UT’s lead to two. Delaware tied the game at the 13:22 mark after a pair of free throws from Danielle Parker, who then made a putback layup with 10:29 left as her team went on a 9-0 run and took a 38-36 lead.
A three-pointer from Williams at the 10:14 mark gave the lead back to Toledo. However, Delle Donne got the and-one on her layup to make it 41-39, the first of nine-straight points she scored as the Blue Hens took a 47-40 lead with 6:28 remaining in the game. Richardson stopped the bleeding when her bucket made it 47-42 at the 6:12 mark, and a trey from Williams made it 51-48 with 2:35 left to go.
Shafir split her free throws at the 2:08 mark to make it 51-49, and Delle Donne knocked down both of hers to give Delaware a 53-49 lead with 2:01 on the clock. Dortch responded by knocking down a three-pointer on the Rockets ensuing possession to make it a one-point game, and Williams followed suit with a trey of her own on Toledo’s next trip to give the Rockets a 55-53 lead with 53 seconds left.
With time expiring, Delle Donne missed her three-point attempt as Toledo won 58-55.
“We had good energy,” Shafir said. “We played good defense on her and then they came back, but we never gave up.”
Toledo will play the winner of the Tennessee Tech (23-7) vs. Auburn (15-15) game on Mar. 19 at noon in Savage Arena.