Shafir, Rockets top USC for WNIT Championship
Published: Monday, April 4, 2011
Updated: Monday, April 4, 2011 11:04
Toledo captured the first postseason tournament crown in school history with a 76-68 win over Southern California in the WNIT Championship on Saturday in front of a Mid-American Conference record 7,301 fans at Savage Arena.
Toledo (29-8) ended the season on an 18-game home winning streak, including all six of their victories in the WNIT. UT defeated four power conference opponents en route to its first WNIT Championship.
"Even though we would have loved to be a part of the NCAA Tournament, this may have been the best thing to ever happen to our program," UT Head Coach Tricia Cullop said. "We got to be part of a national tournament and our fans got to enjoy all of this with us."
Junior guard Naama Shafir (13 of 27) fronted the Rocket attack with a career-high 40 points to go with eight rebounds and four assists. She was named WNIT Most Valuable Player and earned All-Tournament Team honors along with sophomore Yolanda Richardson (4 pts, 5 reb, 2 blk).
The Trojans closed to within four late, but Shafir drained six free throws in the last 25 seconds of the game to snap a 13-4 USC run and secure the game.
"She steps to the forefront, begs for the ball, and carries us," Cullop said. "She is as good as they come. I think she showed tonight that she is one of the best guards in the country."
"She's a great player," USC Head Coach Michael Cooper said. "She did what she had to do to get this win for her team."
Senior forward Melissa Goodall (5 of 7) aided the effort with 12 points and a game-high nine rebounds while junior Haylie Linn (3 of 8) added 10 points and eight boards.
USC (24-13) was led by redshirt-sophomore Briana Gilbreath (6 of 13) who had 14 points and tied for a game-high nine rebounds. Jacki Gemelos (5 of 18) and Cassie Harberts (6 of 13) also scored 14 points as a total of five Trojans reached double figures. Gilbreath and Gemelos were each named to the WNIT All-Tournament Team.
With USC leading 47-45 at the 12:04 mark of the second half, Shafir put the Rockets on her back, scoring nine of the next 12 points to give Toledo a 57-47 edge with under nine minutes to go. USC would close the gap to 70-66 in the final minute but Shafir's clutch free throw shooting helped Toledo pull out the championship win.
The Rockets will lose second leading scorer Melissa Goodall (14 ppg) and Jessica Williams to graduation, but look forward to the return of sophomore forward Lecretia Smith, who has been out since suffering a knee injury in February. Junior center Kyle Baumgartner, a former All-MAC performer who sat out this season after transferring from Akron, is also expected to make an immediate impact for the Rockets next year.
"We are going to miss Melissa Goodall and Jessica Williams," sophomore center Yolanda Richardson said. "They helped us out tremendously, but I think that next year we are going to be bringing in good people too.If we keep working hard and keep doing the things we need to do we will be good next year too."