BOWLING GREEN - The coaching community is a relatively small, relatively tight-knit group where most of the folks are well acquainted, and the friendships are many.
Bowling Green State University women's basketball coach Curt Miller has known University of Toledo coach Tricia Cullop since he was starting in the profession, and Cullop was a player at Purdue. They worked at the same summer camps, and then started to cross paths frequently on the recruiting trail.
A friendship blossomed, and it has matured into a mutual admiration club.
They have nothing but great things to say about each other, but tonight, Miller and Cullop match wits on the court for the first time. So, at some point around 7 p.m., all of the verbal bouquets go by the wayside and the gloves come off. This is still Bowling Green vs. Toledo.
"I think they've done a tremendous job," Cullop said of Miller and the Falcons (20-2), who are on a 20-game winning streak and leading the Mid-American Conference East with a 9-0 mark.
"Coach Miller's done a fantastic job with the program and this year is indicative of that. They've gotten a lot of momentum with every win they've gotten."
Miller said Cullop, who has the Rockets (13-9, 7-2 MAC
West) off to their best start in the MAC since 2002-03 and in a tie with Ball State for first place in the West, has injected the Toledo program with her energy.
"At first I thought she was a fantastic player, and her versatility as a player was impressive, but she also has a great basketball mind," he said. "We believed in a lot of the same philosophies, and we obviously built that respect that we have for each other."
Miller said Cullop will continue the long string of success enjoyed by the Rockets under her predecessors, Bill Fennelly (1988-95) and Mark Ehlen
"The Toledo women's basketball fans are very spoiled. When you think about the past two decades, and you go from Bill Fennelly to Mark Ehlen and now Trish Cullop - it doesn't get much better than that," Miller said. "They are such a big part of the history of MAC women's basketball."
Miller said Cullop has the Rockets playing the best defense in the conference. Toledo held its last two opponents to 34.6 percent shooting, and the Rockets are allowing a MAC-low 63 points in conference games.
"Coach Cullop is a fantastic person, first and foremost, but she's a great coach, and she's got them playing," he said. "That's our biggest challenge: Are we going to be able to find ways to score, because they are so talented defensively?"
Cullop said Miller's Falcons keep finding ways to win games.
"They're consistent. When you play a team like BG there is a smaller window of error you can have in order to be successful," she said. "Their team does a great job of finding ways to get to the free throw line, so we can't foul. We've got to make sure we contest 3-point shots. We have to get back in transition and we can't give them second looks."
Miller, who is going for an 11th straight win over the Rockets, said the two division leaders will gain a lot from the game, regardless of the outcome.
"It's a great opportunity for both teams to learn about each other," he said. "After this game, win or lose, we'll all know more about each other, and about our strengths and weaknesses."
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