UT keeps home postseason win streak aliveWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Several college basketball programs don’t get the opportunity to play in the postseason. Counting the men’s and women’s NCAA Championship and the National Invitational Tournament at the Division I level, only four programs in the entire country, in fact, get to say they ended their respective seasons by winning their final game.
Having been one of those four teams to end its season with a victory after a 76-68 home win over USC to capture the 2011 WNIT Championship, the Toledo women’s basketball program showed on Monday night how much it wants to duplicate that accomplishment. The Rockets easily disposed of Big East member Cincinnati by a score of 72-51 in the second round of this year’s WNIT in front of an energetic crowd of 2,120 at Savage Arena.
“You know, I think it’s we get so hurt obviously in the MAC Tournament,” UT senior guard Courtney Ingersoll said. “Maybe that’s what we need to do is get hurt in the regular season where we just get embarrassed or something.”
If only Ingersoll were truly kidding. The senior from Massillon nailed a career-best six three-pointers and finished with a career-high 24 points as Toledo (23-9) won its ninth-straight postseason contest at home, leading by as many as 27 at one point against the Bearcats.
The mid-major UT has taken down three Big East teams (Cincinnati, Syracuse, Pittsburgh), two SEC teams (Auburn, Alabama) and one PAC-12 team (USC) during that nine-game home postseason win streak, in addition to defeating a Delaware squad that features one of the nation’s top players in Elena Delle Donne.
“We just want to keep playing,” Ingersoll said. “We don’t want our season to end, and I don’t want my season to end, obviously, because then I’m going to be done. It’s a fight that we have, I guess, and it starts with our coaching staff.”
Under the guidance of fourth-year head coach Tricia Cullop, Toledo is 14-5 in postseason play, including a 9-1 mark in the WNIT. Being able to end the 2010-11 campaign with a championship victory over the Trojans was a feeling that Cullop has reiterated to her team.
“I think we learned a lot last year,” Cullop said. “We want the expectation every year to be a postseason here, and we want it not to be one-and-out, no matter which tournament we’re in. So our players are learning some very valuable lessons as we continue to play. Last year, we won a championship, that that’s what’s to be expected. They’re hungry to keep playing.”
That hunger has been evident in the four postseason contests the Rockets have played so far. UT is shooting 45.5 percent from the field, 74.6 percent from the free-throw line and outrebounding its opponents by an average of 9.5 boards per game. Against Cincinnati (16-16), Toledo shot 47.4 percent from the field, 81.8 percent from the free-throw line and held a 43-30 edge in rebounds over the Bearcats, who only had 11 first half points. The Rockets’ bench also outscored Cincinnati’s bench 21-9.
One of those contributing bench players was freshman forward Inma Zanoguera, who had five points and five rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field. A big reason the Spanish native came to Toledo was to have the opportunity to be a part of a deep postseason run.
“This is something that really motivates me,” Zanoguera said of playing in the postseason. “I want to keep playing. I don’t want to end my season.”
When Cullop and Co. were recruiting Zanoguera, they encouraged her to go to YouTube and watch the videos from last year’s WNIT run and what the crowds were like. It worked.
“It was one reason why she was so excited about coming to Toledo because she saw those crowds,” Cullop said. “She saw this tournament, and now it’s so neat for her to get a chance to finally play in it and kind of taste what that feels like.”
With the win, UT advances to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT for the second-straight year, where it will face Virginia Commonwealth University at 7 p.m. Thursday in Savage Arena. This, albeit, without the services of star guard Naama Shafir, a testament to the collective will and skill of the Rockets.
“Who knows what’s going to happen in the future of the next couple of weeks, but we can certainly control how hard we play,” Cullop said. “And the one thing I did remind them is the teams who keep playing right now — yeah, it’s execution, but a lot of it is do you really care about each other? Do you want to fight tooth and nail for everything that’s happening so that you can continue to play?
“And the answer in our locker room is ‘Yes.’ ”