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Rockets more than ready for some home cooking

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Cullop

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Tricia Cullop is ready to put her suitcase in the closet for a few days.

After seven road games, the University of Toledo women's basketball team is finally playing a home game today against North Dakota. UT makes its debut in Savage Arena at 2 p.m.

"I don't even want to think about all the miles we've traveled to finally get home," Cullop said. "We're certainly very happy to not only play in a brand new Savage Arena but also play in front of our own fans.

"It's so exciting to know they can help generate some excitement and come out and support this team like they have in the past. I know this team is excited to show them everything we've learned and get back on the winning track."

The Rockets players are looking forward to seeing some familiar faces in the stands. UT, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, plays four of its next five games at home.

"We have been waiting to play at home for so long," junior Allie Clifton said. "It's been hard to be on the road for seven games. We're just ready to be back here in front of our fans."

After winning their first two games in Hawaii, the Rockets have had turnover problems lately, with 20-plus miscues in each of their last three games and a season-high 25 on Wednesday at Missouri. Cullop, UT's first-year coach, has also been frustrated with UT's

defense. The Rockets are giving up 68 points per game.

"Right now we're gambling and leaving shooters wide open and not helping our post players," Cullop said. "We've got to do a better job. We want to be known as a hard-working, scrappy team."

Cullop has welcomed back Clifton from a knee injury that caused her to miss the first five games. UT's leading scorer last season, Clifton has averaged 15 minutes the last two contests as she gets acclimated. Cullop can already see a difference when she's out there, though.

"Allie brings a lot of leadership," Cullop said. "Being on the court during times when maybe I don't have a timeout to call, she can huddle everybody up and inspire them just by her play. She doesn't get rattled, she's been in a lot of tough situations and knows how to fight through those. That's the leadership we need more and more of."

At Missouri, UT fell down by 14 points early in a 70-50 loss. Slow starts have been a common theme during the losing streak, but that's nothing that couldn't be cured by playing a game or two at home.

"We've learned a lot about what it takes to finish a game, play 40 minutes," Clifton said. "It's never easy on the road, but it's taught us that we can't do anything alone, it takes a team to be successful."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.

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