Rockets invade Bowling Green, take down archrival 48-38
If Naama Shafir took the court for the final time in her career against Bowling Green, it will surely be a memorable one.
The University of Toledo women’s basketball team captured a hard-fought and sometimes ugly 48-38 victory over their archrivals Sunday afternoon at the Stroh Center and avoided an ominous 0-2 start in Mid-American Conference play.
Shafir banked in a three pointer with just under two minutes remaining to seal a huge win for the Rockets (13-2, 1-1 MAC).
“I told our players if we were going to lose a tough game, what better way to bounce back than to win a great game,” said head coach Tricia Cullop. “It means that much more because it’s such a great rivalry game. They’ve had so much success through the years that it means a lot to win here.”
Shafir poured in a game-high 23 points on 7-of-15 shooting, including 2-of-5 from downtown to make up for a foul-plagued outing Thursday night in a rare home loss to Central Michigan in which she played in just 26 minutes.
“In the last game, I wasn’t there for the team,” Shafir said. “I made some mistakes and I was ready to make up for it today.”
This is the only regular season meeting between the bitter rivals. While the possibility of a matchup in the MAC Tournament exists, Shafir knows the atmosphere would likely pale in comparison to a regular season showdown.
“It’s fun,” she said. “Coach told us before the game that we’ll never forget it and we’ll miss it, so we tried to enjoy it and we did.”
UT has gotten the better of the Falcons in three straight games going back to the 2010-11 season.
The Rockets gained the early momentum and forced the Falcons to call a timeout after sophomore forward Inma Zanoguera buried a jumper to put UT in front 6-0 at the 16:04 mark.
Shafir started hot and extended the lead to five after hitting a pair of free throws with 11:39 to play in the first, her seventh and eighth points of the game.
She stayed on target and nailed an open triple from the left wing four minutes later to put the Rockets up 17-9.
Shafir scored 13 of Toledo’s first 17 points.
“I was really impressed with her determination to help us win today,” Cullop said. “She’s someone who has great experience in games like this, she’s played in four of them. That senior leadership and the ability to get your own shot really helps.”
The Falcons had major issues finding the bottom of the net in the first half and missed 16 of their first 19 attempts from the floor (16 percent). BG forward Allison Papenfuss’ free throw with 4:01 remaining was their first point in over five and half minutes and made it 19-10.
Guard Katrina Salinas’ three pointer from the corner with 2:35 to play was BG’s first field goal since the 12:51 mark and jump started a stagnant Falcon offense that closed the half on a 9-0 run and trailed 23-20 at the break.
The cold shooting was contagious and affected both teams to begin the second.
The Falcons (10-5, 1-1) took a one-point lead after Halfhill was fouled beyond the arc and converted two of three from the line with 12:04 left.
UT went ice cold from the floor, scoring just four points in a stretch of almost 13 minutes going back to the first half, but played stellar defense to keep it close.
“They showed great composure when we had some people not shooting the ball well,” Cullop said. “[We knew] it was going to be a tough struggle. We both pride ourselves on not giving easy opportunities to the other team. I had hoped it wasn’t going to be as ugly as it was at times.”
Toledo’s offense finally woke up as Zanoguera drilled a high-arching 18-footer from the left side with 7:10 left to put UT back ahead 32-21.
Shafir followed that up with a driving left-handed layup and got an and-one on top of it, putting the Rockets in front 35-31.
“During that key stretch, we took what the defense gave us,” Cullop said.
However, Bowling Green refused to go quietly.
Senior guard Chrissy Steffen converted on a three-point play of her own and pulled the Falcons to 35-34 with just under four minutes left.
Clinging to a three-point lead late, Shafir delivered one last time to supply the final dagger.
With the shot clock winding down, she threw one up from distance that – in a game where nobody could find rhythm offensively – appropriately went in off the backboard to give UT a 40-34 lead with less than two minutes remaining.
“Halleluiah,” a much relieved Cullop said. “We’ve had enough bad ones go our way that it was finally like ‘thank you God, we finally got one that fell.’ Every once in a while you’re going to get lucky, but you get lucky because you work hard.”
A smiling Shafir shared those sentiments.
“I was just really happy it went in, I don’t care how,” she said. “After our last game, we’ve been waiting for the opportunity to make up for it. We’re glad we only had two days to prepare because we wanted to get back on the court.”12
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