CLEVELAND - Not many would have picked the University of Toledo as a sleeper in the Mid-American Conference tournament before postseason action started.
The Rockets are loving proving everyone wrong.
UT pulled off its second upset in as many days, defeating No. 1 West seed Ball State yesterday 65-60 in the quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Rockets advanced to the semifinals for the second time in three years and will play Miami at noon Friday.
"I think it has to do a lot with heart right now," sophomore Lisa Johnson said. "No teams have any confidence in us. I think we want it more. No one knows that but us."
UT (14-15) defeated a team in the Cardinals that was the preseason pick to win the MAC tournament and had beaten them by 27 points just three weeks ago. To do it, the Rockets shut down Ball State's powerful inside game and Toledo senior Ta'Yani Clark was unstoppable on offense - again.
Clark had a career-high 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting to lead all scorers. She made five 3-pointers to tie a UT tournament record.
After 15 points in the first half, she made four straight shots to start the second half that gave the Rockets a lead they would never relinquish.
"My teammates had confidence in me that I could hit the shots and they got me the ball," Clark said. "I just tried to hit big shots for my team."
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It was the second straight game Clark had a huge offensive game after scoring 16 against Buffalo in the first round. Although Ball State smothered her for the final 12 minutes, she also pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
"She's a senior on a mission," Ball State interim coach Lisa McDonald said. "She doesn't want her season to end. We tried just about everything on her. She made some shots in our faces."
Johnson had 15 points and four steals for the Rockets and Tamesha Scotton added 11 points and eight rebounds.
Both had great defensive games, holding the Cardinals' posts Julie DeMuth, Lisa Rusche and Emily Maggert to a combined five baskets. In Ball State's win over the Rockets Feb. 19, the trio totaled 34 points.
"[Their inside play] was what killed us last time, and that's what won it for us this time," UT coach Mark Ehlen said. "That's really where they want to get you."
Kiley Jarrett led Ball State with 13 points and five assists and Porchia Green added 12.
Johnson, who had 11 of her points in the second half after Clark was finally shut down, said the game came easy to her because she had such a singular focus.
"My mind-set was to focus on defense," Johnson said. "My offense hasn't really been falling for me lately, and I knew if I focused on defense my offense would come. I didn't want Rusche to get that ball, that was my main goal."
Ball State shot 31 percent but led at halftime, 32-31, mostly because it made all 12 of its free-throw attempts. After UT took an 11-point lead halfway through the second half, the Cardinals made a run, but the Rockets did not back down.
With four minutes left, the Cardinals got within two points and then made a defensive stop. But Olivia Terry swiped the ball out of Porchia Green's hands from behind. Scotton missed a shot on the ensuing possession, but Johnson went untouched to the offensive glass and made the putback.
Scotton, a 44 percent foul shooter, made 3 of 4 free throws over the next two minutes and UT held off the Cardinals.
"We've worked so hard with that, and that's something I take personally," Ehlen said of Scotton's free-throw shooting. "When you see that happen, you're proud as a coach.
"We're showing the potential that this team has had. I think any coach at any level wants a team to not just play well at the right time, but to show the potential that they have."
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