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BOWLING GREEN - Toledo women's basketball coach Mark Ehlen sat in the post-game press conference after his team's loss to Bowling Green Saturday, the emotions still fresh following a bitter one-point defeat.
Eventually those emotions gave way to frustration as Ehlen tried to address his team's struggles this season.
"There's no question in my mind that, if BG wins the MAC Championship or is one of the elite teams, we're right there," Ehlen said, pounding his fist on a table for emphasis. "We're right there. But our record is 12-14 and we've had a lot of frustrating games, and this was one of them."
Both meetings between these rivals this season could not have been closer. The Falcons had to score the game's final seven points to claim an overtime win at Savage Hall on Jan. 15; Saturday it took a three-point play by BG senior Kelly Kapferer with just 9.1 seconds left to lift the Falcons to victory.
With Saturday's win Bowling Green improved to 19-7 overall and 12-3 in the Mid-American Conference. The win also clinched a share of the MAC's regular-season title and a first-round bye in the MAC tournament for BG.
But Falcon coach Curt Miller also knows things came perilously close to being very different.
"If Toledo wins both of these games, they're 10-5. If we lose both these games, we're 10-5 and they have the seeding over us," Miller said.
"That's how close it is. We're potentially the MAC champs, and if both games go the other way we're sitting here with identical records.
"Winning close games is such a huge part of the overall success of your season, and fortunately we've won a lot of close games this season."
And the Rockets have learned a lot about close games this season. Saturday's loss was Toledo's 10th game decided by five or fewer points, and UT is 4-6 in those games. Bowling Green is 2-4 in games decided by five or fewer points, with both victories coming at the expense of the Rockets.
"The bottom line is, with a four-point lead and 30 seconds to go, you've got to finish those games off. And we didn't do it," Ehlen said. "We should have won the game, bottom-line. We had the game won, and we let them get back in it."
The Rockets are 12-14 overall, 8-7 in the MAC and have secured a first-round home game in the MAC tournament, which will be played Saturday. Toledo will be either the sixth or seventh seed, meaning it will need to win at home Saturday and then three times at Cleveland's Gund Arena to win the MAC tournament.
Winning four games isn't nearly as easy as getting a first-round bye and winning just three games in Cleveland, but Miller still thinks the Rockets are capable.
"I've been trying to tell everyone I can tell that Toledo is the sleeper team in the MAC," Miller said. "When they make 3s, their three guards play well and they get a solid performance out of [Karin] Hoogendam, they're one of the scariest teams in the MAC.
"They have the talent to win four games in a row in this tournament, and there's no doubt they have a legitimate shot to win this thing and go to the NCAA tournament."
MANN'S STATUS UNCERTAIN: Sophomore forward Ali Mann suffered a sprained left ankle with eight minutes to play Saturday. Mann did not practice with the team yesterday, and Miller said her status for today's game at Northern Illinois will be a game-time decision. He expects Mann will be available March 9 for the team's MAC tournament quarterfinal game.