The Rockets' Lisa Johnson, left, fights for the ball with Ball State's Emily Maggert. Yesterday's division title for Toledo was the first for Johnson and two other seniors. 'It's awesome,' she said.
It was the perfect ending to a sometimes rocky career for three seniors on the University of Toledo women's basketball team.
Well, almost perfect.
Following their 62-48 victory over Ball State yesterday - a win that handed UT its first outright Mid-American Conference West Division title since the 2000-01 season - the Rockets longed to celebrate on the court at Savage Arena with 4,308 fans who turned out for their final home game.
"I was hoping we could cut down the nets tonight, but we have the boys' game [being played after this]," UT senior co-captain Lisa Johnson said, drawing laughter. "But, this has been the goal for Allie
[Clifton] and I since we first stepped on the court here in 2006. It's awesome, and it feels great, and I think we deserved it."
In Clifton and Johnson's first two years at UT, the Rockets had a combined record of 25-35.
The pair were honored before yesterday's contest, along with fellow senior Tanika Mays - a transfer from IUPUI after the 2006-07 season - and have provided the Rockets (22-6, 12-3 MAC) with stellar on-court performances and solid off-court leadership.
"There's not a kid on our team that you can't look up to each one of them for different reasons," UT coach Tricia Cullop said. "They've been absolutely tremendous."
Yesterday, though, it was a pair of nonseniors who carried UT against Ball State, which led 24-22 at halftime.
Junior forward Melissa Goodall scored eight of her team-high 13 points in the first half to keep the Rockets' offense from being completely nonexistent.
Sophomore forward Lecretia Smith then sparked UT with nine of her 10 points in the second half to put the Cardinals (12-16, 6-9) away. Smith also finished with a team-high nine rebounds, with five coming on the offensive end.
"There are so many different people on our team that step up every night, and tonight Lecretia Smith was the one who stepped up and picked up where others were lacking," said Mays, who totaled 11 points and eight rebounds. "I feel like Lecretia has come into her own and figured out what her strengths are."
Smith tallied four points during the Rockets' 12-2 run that gave them a 41-36 advantage with
Smith then scored another four points during a 14-3 surge that gave UT its largest lead of the game, a 58-43 advantage with
2:53 to play.
"Lecretia Smith had an outstanding game," Cullop said. "Every time I thought we had a good look that didn't go in, all of a sudden you saw her soaring to the basket, grabbing a rebound, and either putting it in or getting fouled."
Smith's effort helped UT outrebound the Cardinals 42-34 and also help make up for the Rockets' lackluster 38.5 percent shooting effort.
UT dropped in 10 second-chance points and also outscored Ball State 24-8 in the paint en route to locking up a first-round bye in next month's MAC tournament.
"To secure the West Division today at home, it was very special not only to our seniors but to our entire team," Cullop said. "Our fans are just tremendous, and it was a fun environment today."
Junior forward Emily Maggert had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Cardinals, who handed UT its first MAC loss 73-69 on Jan. 17 in Muncie, Ind.
Ball State junior guard Ty'Ronda Benning added 12 points and senior guard Audrey McDonald had 11.
"This has been a team that since I've been here has eluded us," Cullop said. "Our kids were pretty fired up for that reason."