As the University of Toledo women's basketball team enters the stretch run in Mid-American Conference play, coach Tricia Cullop feels the Rockets are still improving.
UT played strong fundamental basketball in defeating Western Michigan Saturday, 64-49 at Savage Arena.
The Rockets shot 50 percent from the field and the Broncos' point total was a season-low for a UT opponent. In the Rockets' last three home games, their foes haven't scored more than 51 points.
"We're turning the corner in trying to execute a little better," Cullop said. "I thought this week of fine-tuning our defense and not having two games really paid off. There were drastic improvements from our last game to this game in our defensive execution. And you're starting to see us run our plays better."
With the victory and Northern Illinois' loss at Eastern Michigan, the Rockets (15-10, 9-3) grabbed sole possession of second place in the MAC West with four regular-season games remaining.
Allie Clifton led the Rockets with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, hitting 3-of-5 3-pointers. Clifton was a big part of UT's 20-4 run to start the game and was able to take advantage of holes in WMU's 1-3-1 defense, making 7-of-11 shots.
"When we rotate the ball well it opens up shots for everyone," Clifton said. "I was able to knock some down."
The Rockets allowed the Broncos no breathing room in jumping out to the early lead in front of a crowd of 2,612. WMU had seven turnovers in the opening minutes and Clifton had 10 quick points to make the Broncos pay.
"With the way Western has been playing, the very beginning of the game was going to be huge," Cullop said. "We had to come out and have some intensity and outmatch their intensity."
WMU responded by turning up its ball pressure on defense and not giving the Rockets any easy baskets. It got the Broncos a few points, but UT soon adjusted and took a 12-point lead into halftime.
"They were really physical, they pressured us a lot," Clifton said. "I think for one, Naama [Shafir] did really well handling the pressure and staying poised and patient. That's what you've got to do in tight situations like that."
The Broncos (7-18, 3-9) came no closer than nine points in the second half. Before Cullop cleared her bench with two minutes left, UT owned a 21-point lead.
The Rockets, featuring the MAC's top defense in conference games, forced the Broncos into 18 turnovers and held leading scorer Tiera DeLaHoussaye without a point. DeLaHoussaye, who was a first-team All-MAC player last season, had no rebounds or assists, either, in just 14 minutes.
"I think it's team defense," Cullop said. "She's a great driver. You want to stay in front of her, but you have to have great help side. Help side [defense] is something I preached all week and have a hoarse voice for it."
Lisa Johnson added 11 points for the Rockets and Courtney Ingersoll had 10. UT is 10-1 at home, the most wins for the team in Savage Arena since the 2002-03 season.
"You can't ask for more," Ingersoll said. "Our home crowd and how we get pumped up for games is amazing. And we're undefeated in the MAC at home. Having MAC teams come into our house, it's a hard environment for them. They're going to have to play extremely well to take one from us."
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