Shortly after the University of Toledo women's basketball team started its first losing streak since early December, coach Tricia Cullop made it clear what had just transpired at Savage Arena was not a bad thing.
UT lost 75-69 to Ball State yesterday, surrendering a 15-point lead from the first half, but the Rockets pleased their coach in the process.
"That blue-collar attitude that we've had all year was back," Cullop said. "It was a true test of their fortitude and their persistence this whole season long. I was very proud of what they accomplished today even though it was a loss."
It was the first home defeat in Mid-American Conference play for the Rockets, who fell to 17-12, 11-5. UT finished its home slate 11-2 in front of a crowd of 3,506 fans, losing its first game all year when leading at the half.
The Rockets, who have dropped two consecutive games for the first time since losing five straight on the road in nonconference play, stayed a few moments longer in their postgame huddle at midcourt.
"We're hungry," junior Lisa Johnson said of the players-only discussion. "We're not going to let these last two games get under our skin. If anything, it's going to make us better for the tournament."
Tanika Mays led the Rockets with 17 points and Naama Shafir added 16 points and eight assists. Johnson had 15 points and eight rebounds, her third straight game scoring in double figures.
The game had no impact on the standings. UT already had clinched a first-round bye in the MAC tournament. The Rockets play at 9 a.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Midway through the first half it looked like the Rockets would easily avenge their loss to the Cardinals (22-8, 14-2) in Muncie, Ind. UT started out shooting 65 percent and took a 33-18 lead with 7:17 remaining in the first half.
Behind guards Kiley Jarrett and Audrey McDonald, West division champs Ball State fought back and UT had a seven-point lead at halftime. That lead quickly was erased in the second period - five minutes into the half Ball State went up by four.
"Some costly turnovers," Cullop said. "I thought we made some good things happen defensively and then gave it right back to them."
UT responded and got some stops to take a four-point lead with six minutes remaining. The Cardinals, though, had a major advantage on free throws, shooting 33 to UT's 19 and hitting 81 percent.
"They had a whole lot of free shots," Mays said. "We fouled them a lot in the second half. We didn't move our feet."
Ball State regained the lead with 2:46 to play and never looked back. Frustration boiled over for the Rockets when, down four with 30 seconds left, Cullop tried to call a timeout and didn't get it, and UT turned it over instead. The coach dropped to her knees in anger.
"I thought she heard me, she didn't," Cullop said of the official. "Our kids relaxed and they were able to get a steal. Everybody's human, I'm not going to criticize anyone."
Cullop said she felt her team could take "good momentum" from the game.
"These type of games spur you on to greater things," Cullop said. "You get a bad taste in your mouth and it doesn't go away."
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