UT women blast Kent State during ‘Rockets for Cure’ fundraiserWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When the University of Toledo women’s basketball team stepped onto the hardwood at Savage Arena on Feb. 16 they did so motivated by reasons far beyond their Mid-American Conference (MAC) title hopes.
They were playing for starting forward Lecretia Smith, who was attending her grandfather’s funeral.
They were playing for former Rocket Ashley Barrett who is, for a second time, battling leukemia.
They were playing for senior center Yolanda Richardon’s cancer-stricken father, and every other individual who has endured, or is enduring the tribulations of a similar battle.
Adorned in pink for the fifth annual “Rockets for the Cure” fundraiser to support the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Northwest Ohio and cancer research, an impassioned Toledo squad dismantled Kent State 82-45.
A crowd of 5,712 — the fourth largest turnout in program history — was there, commemorative pink towels in hand, to share in the victory.
“We were very happy today to have such an amazing fan base show up to support a great cause, and also support our team,” said UT head coach Tricia Cullop. “5,700 smiling faces in the stands certainly helped inspire our team, but also this cause inspired our team.”
The team’s warm-up shirts were emblazoned with a pair of hearts on which Barrett’s and Richardson’s father’s initials were inscribed in honor of their fight against cancer. When the warm-ups came off, the Rockets (22-2, 10-1 MAC) began using the fuel provided by the cause they have championed to help them rack up their second-largest point total of the season.
Sophomore guard Stephanie Recker, who started in Smith’s stead after winning the spot in practice this week, found twine first, draining a three-pointer from the wing.
“[Starting for the first time] felt amazing,” said Recker, who tied Janelle Reed-Lewis for the second-most points on the team with nine. “I knew it was so going to feel awesome, but the thrill it gave me was unexplainable.
“Filling [Smith’s] shoes is a big thing to do. She does a lot for the team so I knew I’d have to step it up.”
Back-to-back lay-ins from fellow sophomore Inma Zanoguera gave Toledo a 7-0 lead and forced a Kent State timeout 1:23 seconds into the game. She finished tied with reserve Ana Capotosto and Golden Flashes (3-21, 1-10) guard Tamzin Barroilhet for a game-high 10 points.
Barroilhet (team-high 10.1 ppg) banked in a bucket on the ensuing inbounds pass, to which the Rockets responded with 21-straight points, taking a commanding 28-2 advantage with 11 minutes until the break.
Cullop slowly pulled her starters, but the reserves held steady, taking UT into the locker room with a 45-19 lead.
The disparity ballooned to a game-high 45 just before the six minute mark of the second half when Rockets freshman guard Michele Hayes was fouled while hitting a runner in the lane and made good on an old-fashioned three-point play.
As the game wound down, Cullop again turned to Hayes and her other bench players to close out the stanza. In a true team effort, every UT player who entered the game lit up the scoreboard.
“You usually see a lot of teams who have one or two players who score in the 20s every game, but a lot of times with our team we have four or five people with around the same amount of points.” Recker said. “We’re all unselfish and we are share the basketball, so it’s really cool to get everyone involved.”
Toledo shot 54 percent (33-of-61) from the field, including 44 percent (8-of-18) from beyond the arc. The Rockets held Kent State to 37 percent (17-of-46) shooting, forcing 23 turnovers.
The only blemish on an otherwise spotless day for UT was the 19 turnovers caused by the Golden Flashes.
“There were things in this game we could have done a lot better. We had too many turnovers today,” Cullop said. “The one thing that I really like is everyone that came in scored and everyone did something really positive and that’s what you want to see out of your team.”
With their cross-division match-ups now behind them, Toledo has three MAC West showdowns remaining before the conference tournament March 9. Next up for the division-leading Rockets is a clash with Northern Illinois (7-17, 2-9), whom the Rockets squeaked out a 44-42 win against Jan. 26 in DeKalb.
“Everyday the motivation for myself and for our staff is to give everything we can to prepare this team for what we want most and that’s [the NCAA Tournament],” Cullop said. “More than the teams we play, we want to get better so we can reach that goal. It’s not going to be easy, there are a lot of MAC schools saying the same thing right now.”