Rockets win 11th-straightWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In front of a unique crowd which included approximately 1,200 excited kids from the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan areas packed in Savage Arena, Toledo gave its young fans plenty to stand up and shout about in its 72-40 win over Northern Illinois.
On the Rockets’ second annual “Rocket Women’s Basketball Educational Day”—the goal of which is to display the importance of education to youths across the area and show how what’s learned in the classroom can be related to sports and other fun parts of life—UT overcame a slow early start and put on a clinic down the stretch against the visiting Huskies for its 11th-sraight win.
“I think it’s a great thing for young kids who have never been to a college game to get a chance to come in here and experience this atmosphere, but also hopefully inspire them to want to do well academically later on so that they’ll not only have a chance to go to college, but who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be coaching one of them,” Toledo head coach Tricia Cullop said.
Though both teams struggled offensively in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Rockets benefitted from the hot hand of senior guard Naama Shafir, who scored 16 of UT’s 29 first half points and finished with a game-high 25 points. Shafir went three-for-three from three-point range, 8-of-10 from the free-throw line and 7-of-11 from the field in the contest.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” Shafir said of the Huskies. “They play great defense, and we knew it’s not going to be an easy game. So we knew they [were] going to play hard at the beginning, but we have to keep playing harder than them, and hopefully they’ll get tired. So I think that’s kind of what happened.”
UT (23-2, 11-1 Mid-American Conference) beat NIU just 44-42 on Jan. 26 at Northern Illinois, but this time the Huskies were without Satavia Taylor, who led the Huskies in scoring before tearing her ACL earlier this month.
“I thought Northern [Illinois] is really giving everything they’ve got without one of their best players,” Cullop said.
Early on in the contest, both teams struggled mightily to find the bucket. By the 11:11 mark of the first half, the Rockets were shooting 33 percent from the field, while the Huskies (7-18, 2-10 MAC) were a shade worse at 31 percent.
However, after a trey from Alexis Lindstrom tied the game at 17 apiece with 7:19 to go until the break, Toledo closed the half on a 12-2 run with eight of those points coming at the hands of Shafir.
“I don’t know,” Shafir said in response to if she felt she had to step up during UT’s offensive struggles. “I just tried to get points in transition and push the ball, and I got some open threes and that’s what happened.”
Shafir picked up where she left off in the second half, scoring seven-straight to help give the Rockets a 40-19 lead with 16:40 left. At that point, Toledo was on a 23-2 run as Shafir had more points individually than Northern Illinois had as a team.
“Her intelligence, her court savvy is what separates her because she’s not the fastest player I’ve ever coached, but she’s one of the smartest I’ve ever coached,” Cullop said of Shafir. “She knows how to take what the defense gives her.”
Jenna Thorp finally ended NIU’s scoring drought with 15:45 left in the game when her trey from the right side made it 40-22 in favor of the Rockets. Though Thorp’s three-pointer sparked a quick 5-0 run from Northern Illinois, it wasn’t enough to stave off Toledo as UT outscored the Huskies 32-16 from that point to pick up the victory.
Toledo will be in action again on Feb. 24 when it heads to Mount Pleasant, Mich. to face Central Michigan (16-9, 10-2 MAC) at 2 p.m. The Chippewas defeated the Rockets 73-66 at Savage Arena back on Jan. 10 in UT’s MAC opener.
“I don’t think it’ll take any pregame speech,” Cullop said of playing at CMU. “They’re very excited about this opportunity.”