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Published: Wednesday, 1/12/2011

UT's defense grabs victory over NIU

In her previous two years as the women's basketball coach at the University of Toledo, Tricia Cullop's teams were known for their high-octane offenses that put up a boatload of points almost every night.

This season, the Rockets have taken on a different identity, and that's just fine by Cullop as long as they keep winning.

UT (11-5, 3-0 Mid-American Conference) has yet to score more than 63 points in a conference game, but remains undefeated after Wednesday night's 42-31 victory over Northern Illinois in front of 2,489 at Savage Arena. The Rockets' 42 points were the fewest ever scored in a victory in school history, according to the UT sports information office.

"This was a defensive juggernaut," Cullop said. "If people came here wanting an offensive, high-powered game, they're going to leave disappointed. But if they came here wanting a Rocket victory, they got what they wanted."

The Rockets shot just 30 percent (16-of-54), including 23 percent (6-of-26) in the second half.

Toledo's Courtney Ingersoll dribbles around Northern Illinois' Brittney Callahan during last night's game at Savage Arena. Toledo's Courtney Ingersoll dribbles around Northern Illinois' Brittney Callahan during last night's game at Savage Arena.
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Not to be out-done, Northern Illinois shot 24 percent (12-of-51) and made just three shots in the first half. Marke Freeman had all nine of the Huskies' points at the break as they trailed 25-9 at halftime.

"We keep saying it was ugly, it was this, it was that," Cullop said, "but it was a win. Maybe this is our identity. Maybe we're the win ugly team. And I'll take that, because I love the intensity defensively of our team."

The Rockets also forced Northern Illinois into committing 20 turnovers, and they turned those miscues into 15 points.

"We did play good defense, and I think that's what made the difference," said junior point guard Naama Shafir, who was the only player from either team to finish in double figures with 12 points.

"[But] we need to work on some stuff on offense, because we're going to face some teams [in the future] and we're going to have to hit shots."

Toledo made 36 percent (10-of-28) of its shots in the first half, and things continued to worsen after intermission. The Rockets scored just two points in the first four minutes of the second half, allowing Northern Illinois to cut the deficit to 10.

Another dry spell, when UT drained just a single free throw during a 5:56 stretch midway through the second half, allowed the Huskies to creep within nine of the Rockets' lead.

But that's as close as Northern Illinois would come. A quick 6-0 run, utilizing two free throws from redshirt freshman guard Andola Dortch and back-to-back buckets from sophomore forward Lecretia Smith, put Toledo comfortably ahead 39-24 with 3:24 remaining.

"I'd much prefer a win than [a game in which] we played very pretty because we hit shots but we lost," Cullop said. "You always say if you're not going to play defense, you're not going to win championships. And I do think that's very true."

NOTES: Wednesday night's game was a reunion of sorts for Cullop and first-year NIU coach Kathi Bennett. Cullop succeeded Bennett at Evansille following Bennett's departure after the 1999-2000 season to become the head coach at Indiana. "It's the first time I've ever had a chance to coach against her," Cullop said. "I just have so much respect for what she and her family do, and they're so good for basketball." … The Huskies' nine first-half points are the second fewest points UT has allowed in a half in school history. The Rockets held Saint Peter's to eight points in the first half earlier this season.

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com |or 419-724-6084.



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