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Published: Tuesday, 12/15/2009

University of Toledo coach frustrated by loss to Valpo

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Gene Cross had been there before.

Walking off the floor at Valparaiso on Saturday after an 81-49 loss, the University of Toledo coach knew he had to keep an even keel.

Surprisingly enough, it wasn't even the worst beating the Rockets had endured this season. UT fell 82-49 to Vermont in the final game at the Legends Classic in Philadelphia over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

On the bus ride back from Indiana, Cross didn't lecture or yell at his players. Instead he pulled out his laptop and began breaking down film of the game.

But that's not to say he wasn't upset with the 32-point blowout.

"The most disappointing thing was I thought we didn't play hard and we didn't compete," Cross said yesterday.

"The one thing I try to pride myself on as a coach is getting our guys to at least play hard and understanding how hard they have to play. I felt like we didn't do that and I have to do a better job of motivating our guys to play harder."

UT didn't have any scorers in double figures against Valparaiso, with freshmen Malcolm Griffin and Jordan Dressler leading the way with nine points apiece.

Freshman forward Jake Barnett, the Rockets' leading scorer coming into the contest, finished with six points after shooting 0-for-5 from the field.

While nobody wants to be trounced like that, Cross admitted it's all part of the maturation process of his young team.

Just when it appeared the Rockets had turned the corner after winning three of their last four contests, they suffer an ugly defeat.

"I consider it a part of the inconsistency that comes with being young," Cross said. "The one thing that's consistent with a youthful group is inconsistency. I wouldn't consider this a setback. I'd consider it part of the roller coaster that goes along with having a young group.

"I'd rather have not so deep a drop. It feels like I was on the Magnum at Cedar Point, where you're right up there and then boom! You hit that drop. But we'll be back up and then, you know what, we'll be back down some this year. I realize that and I hope that everybody else realizes that. This will be a roller coaster-type year for us."

Cross added that he's not discouraged by the rout, but he does realize the enormity of the task he's assigned in having to sometimes play four or five freshmen at the same time when most teams field one or two newcomers in their rotation.

"We're going to stay the course," Cross said. "[But] it's almost unfair to have to play freshmen or for freshmen to have to play. You look anywhere across the country - other than the elite programs, freshmen usually have to come off the bench and they get their spot minutes here or there. That's not the case here. Our guys have to learn on the fly."

With final exams taking place at UT this week,

Cross gave his players an NCAA-mandated two days off Sunday and yesterday with the Rockets getting back to work today in

preparation for Saturday's home game against Indiana State.

The time away should allow the Rockets to clear their heads, but Cross said he's eager to resume practices.

"Maybe the guys needed a little bit of a mental and physical break," Cross said. "It gives them to get away for a heartbeat and concentrate on what they're here to really do. But I'm ready to get them back on the court."

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com.



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