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Published: Saturday, 2/21/2009

UT freshman coming up big but still hopes to improve

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo's Naama Shafir has averaged 11 points per game and has scored in the final seconds for Rocket victories. She also is eighth in the Mid-American Conference with 4.2 assists per game. Toledo's Naama Shafir has averaged 11 points per game and has scored in the final seconds for Rocket victories. She also is eighth in the Mid-American Conference with 4.2 assists per game.
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When Naama Shafir's floater went through the net with 8.3 seconds left against Kent State on Sunday, it was the third time this season the University of Toledo freshman point guard had come up big in the final moments.

Shafir's basket at the end of the shot clock gave the Rockets an important three-point cushion in the victory over the Golden Flashes. Twice earlier, she scored the deciding points with less than five seconds left to win games for UT.

Against Arizona in her first collegiate game, Shafir made two free throws with four seconds left for a one-point Rocket victory. Playing at Miami last month, she drove the lane for a layup to put UT up two with 4.6 seconds left.

Shafir said her heart was pounding when she stepped to the line against Arizona, and that her shot against Kent State was "lucky."

"I would prefer we wouldn't have to take that shot, that we would have a bigger lead," Shafir said. "If coach decides that's what we should do, I will try to do my best."

A 5-foot-7 freshman from Israel, Shafir has started all 24 games for the Rockets, who host Western Michigan at 2 p.m. today. But it's her potential to make plays at the end that especially excites coach Tricia Cullop.

"She's a very heady player," Cullop said. "Very heady and very clutch. She's that kind of player; you can trust her in late-game situations to make a great decision."

Shafir is second on the team with 11 points per game and eighth in the Mid-American Conference with 4.2 assists per game. Her talent was obvious from her first game in a UT uniform. Now Cullop and her staff are trying to work with Shafir to fine-tune parts of her game that are still raw.

Shafir has been in foul trouble in a few recent games, fouling out in losses to Akron and Bowling Green. She said she is adjusting to the way games are called in the United States and trying to correct habits she developed while playing on her national team in Israel.

"I need to be smarter with the fouls," Shafir said. "I just need to be smarter. I don't want to be in a situation where coach wants me in and I can't because of fouls."

UT's other point guard, sophomore Jessica Williams, also plays shooting guard and it hinders the Rockets' lineup choices when Shafir is on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first half.

"There's so many things she brings to the floor that are positive that it's definitely a detriment to not have her on the floor," Cullop said.

Cullop said Shafir, along with the entire team, also is working on cutting down turnovers. In MAC games Shafir is averaging more than five turnovers per game and the team is averaging more than 21.

"Naama has to experience what it's like to play against every team in our conference and key players that are going to match up to her," Cullop said. "She's seeing the best defender every night. That's a great experience for her as a young player in our program who we depend on greatly."

Shafir has been willing to put in the time to improve, putting up extra shots in the gym on off days. The next thing Cullop wants her to focus on is her 3-point shot.

"There are times she's told us this is the hardest she's ever worked," Cullop said.




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