7,000 watch Lady Rockets advanceWritten by Chris Schmidbauer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Little Guys.
Call them whatever you like, but the UT Lady Rockets just keep on rolling in the WNIT.
The Rockets jumped out to a 9-0 lead early, and never looked back en route to an 83-60 win March 30 against UNC Charlotte in front of a sold-out Savage Arena.
“It was just so exciting that our players came out of the gate like they did,” head coach Tricia Cullop said. “I think we set the tone early.”
The Rockets used a barrage of outside shooting from Jessica Williams and inside play from Melissa Goodall and Andola Dortch, who had seven rebounds, to jump out to a 43-23 halftime lead.
Dortch, who stands at 5 feet 7, was able to grab seven of her team high 10 rebounds in the first half. She also helped pace the Rockets in the first half with nine points as well.
“I thought Andola did a great job tonight,” Cullop said. “Some of those rebounds were against girls who were over 6 feet. We asked her to do a lot tonight, and it just speaks to what a great person and tough player she is.”
The Rockets used 14 turnovers to their advantage, turning them into 20 points which aided the huge lead.
Any questions of a halftime lull were soon dashed by the Rockets as Yolanda Richardson opened the second stanza with four points on UT’s first two possessions.
It was just one of the many times during this WNIT run that the Start graduate and Toledo native has stepped up for the Rockets.
“I knew I might not be as big as some of the other players out there,” Richardson said. “I knew that I would have to play big in these games.”
She scored 14 points to go along with four rebounds for the game.
Naama Shafir also had a big night. The All-MAC selection was the team’s leading scorer with 16 point and nine assists.
The junior said just because this team hasn’t been a the odds-on favorite very often does not mean this squad will give up.
“We may always be the underdog,” she said. “But we are still going to play hard. I think we know that we have to play hard even if we are not favored to win.”
The Rockets were aided all night by the “sixth man” element buzzing through out the entire arena. UT set a school record and MAC record for women’s basketball attendance with 7,020 fans packed inside Savage Arena.
“I thought it was really neat to see how many people showed up early,” Cullop said. “I actually asked a staff member to go out and take a picture of the scalpers that were out front, so I could hang it on my wall.”
Shafir said she could tell the crowd was electric from the minute UT headed onto the court for warm ups.
“We have such a great group of fans,” Shafir said. “We really felt a lot of support from them tonight.”
Richardson said the crowd certainly aided the team’s fast start.
“We were already fired up to play,” she said, “but when you have that many people screaming, it gives you an extra boost.”
The Rockets will take on the USC Trojans at 3 p.m. April 2 at Savage Arena.
The Trojans won against Illinois State 63-36 on March 30, which set the stage for the WNIT championship game.
“I looked over at Melissa [Goodall] and I asked her how cool it is going to be that she can finish her college career in a national championship game,” Cullop said. “I am just so proud of our team and happy for our seniors to send them out like this.”
Cullop said the quick turn around time to the game against the Trojans should not affect her team. She said a staff member had already begun watching USC tape prior to the contest.
“We always have someone scouting one game ahead, but I haven’t even seen [USC] play this season,” Cullop said. “I am looking forward to learning more about them, but tonight I am going to enjoy this one.”
Tickets to the WNIT championship can be purchased tomorrow morning starting at 10 A.M. at the UT box office or by calling (419) 530-GOLD.