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Published: Wednesday, 1/13/2010

University of Toledo focused on keeping streak alive

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

At the mid-point of the season, many coaches are still putting the pieces together in their respective programs.

With most teams starting conference play just in the last week, there are still plenty of head honchos scribbling X's and O's on the chalkboard and figuring out what players work best together on the court.

Not Tricia Cullop.

The University of Toledo women's basketball coach and her program are well ahead of schedule.

The Rockets (12-3, 2-0 Mid-American Conference), who have won four straight and nine of their last 10 contests, are fine-tuning themselves versus making wholesale adjustments.

"They're a fun group to work with," Cullop said. "Theycontinue to show up for practice every day excited to learn. Not every team that I've coached has been as eager to learn as this one."

After a season-opening loss to Northwestern, UT rallied off three straight victories before suffering a discouraging setback at Texas-El Paso, where Cullop chastised her players for their lack of effort and enthusiasm.

Since then, however, the team has established its identity as a very deep squad with a desire to always keep improving.

The Rockets have defeated their last four opponents by an average of 12.5 points per game, but they haven't let the success affect their preparation and hunger to get better.

"The run that we're on is good, but like Coach always preaches to us, we're never satisfied," sophomore guard Clare Aubry said. "We're glad to be on this run and we just know we have to work extremely hard to keep it up. The MAC is a tough conference."

UT will be tested tonight with MAC West Division foe Eastern Michigan (12-2, 2-0) coming to town for a 7 p.m. matchup at Savage Arena.

The victor will get an early leg-up in the race for the division title and keep pace with Ball State, which is undefeated in conference play.

Senior forward Tanika Mays will look to keep her streak of recording double-doubles in UT's last two contests alive, but Cullop also has a stable full of horses she can turn to.

Sophomore point guard Naama Shafir is averaging in double figures with 13.5 points per game.

In addition, Aubry knocked down a pair of huge 3-pointers in the Rockets' last outing against Central Michigan on Saturday, and junior forward Melissa Goodall was a force down low with 10 points.

All told, Cullop has a rotation of 10 players who have played quality minutes in nearly every game this season.

"The one thing that's a nice problem is that when somebody's having an off night, in the past that may have hurt us a lot," Cullop said. "Now, I substitute and we have somebody else who's hungry to get out there and prove themselves. And so, there are a lot of times that without calling a timeout I can solve the problem just by subbing."

Contact Zach Silka

at: zsilka@theblade.com.



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