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The University of Toledo women's basketball team played its only home game in a 24-day span last night. The Rockets took care of business, beating Central Michigan 76-65 at Savage Arena.
By the time the night was over, UT had a share of the Mid-American Conference West division lead. After being picked last in the preseason poll, the Rockets (10-8, 4-1) are tied with Ball State for first place.
"I think people are starting to second-guess themselves and thinking, this little team from Toledo isn't that little," sophomore Melissa Goodall said. "Let them keep thinking that, that's all I've got to say."
Jessica Williams and Tanika Mays each scored 15 points to lead UT. Goodall had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds and freshman Clare Aubry had eight points off the bench.
The Chippewas came into the game averaging 80.8 points per game to lead the league. UT coach Tricia Cullop told her team she believed they would win if they held CMU to 65 points or less. The Chippewas (10-8, 2-3) shot just 33 percent, including 5-of-22 on 3-pointers, and produced a season-low point total.
"The players were teasing me after the game that I must have had a premonition," Cullop said. "I really thought our defense was the name of the game, that's why we won."
Defense was nowhere to be found at first. The Chippewas shot a blistering 57 percent in the opening minutes to take a 10-point lead. They were pushing the ball and not letting UT set up its defense. It led to the Rockets going through a stretch that included both turnovers and missed jumpers.
"The important thing was to relax," Cullop said. "I thought we telegraphed some passes, I thought we got stagnant
offensively and when we took our time and made the extra pass we got a really good look."
Down 26-16, UT started to get to the foul line and scored some points in transition. The Rockets went on a 13-0 run and led by two at the half. To start the second period UT made four of its first five shots and controlled the tempo the rest of the night.
The Rockets were determined to get the ball inside and mostly finished their layups, scoring 48 points in the paint. UT outrebounded the Chippewas by 18, grabbing a season-high 51. Four players had at least eight rebounds for the Rockets.
"When the post players can get in there and do what we're supposed to do, that's what put us over the edge because we were able to limit them to one shot," Goodall said.
UT showed it had learned an important lesson Cullop was trying to teach. After a 14-point loss to Ball State on Saturday, the coach was frustrated that her team seemed to withdraw when the Cardinals went on a big run in the first half.
"You can't let a positive momentum swing from another team deflate you," Cullop said. "At the Ball State game you could have heard the air gasping out of my players. You don't want them to get down because the game's never over until the buzzer sounds, and that's the way we're going to play from here on out."
UT isn't back at Savage Arena until Feb. 4 and has two road games against East teams before then.
Cullop wants to make sure the Rockets stay focused.
"This season's far from over," Cullop said, "and we're not going to think we've arrived by any point."