YPSILANTI, Mich. — If this is indeed a defensive-minded, win-ugly team, as University of Toledo women's basketball coach Tricia Cullop suggested her squad may be earlier in the week, then Andola Dortch is quickly becoming the MVP.
Assigned to guard one of the best players in the Mid-American Conference for the second straight game, Dortch again got the better of her opponent.
The redshirt freshman guard helped limit Eastern Michigan's Tavelyn James to 13 points, and the Rockets utilized a game-breaking 23-5 run early in the second half to roll to a 72-56 victory Saturday in front of 509 spectators at the Convocation Center.
"Andola Dortch is the heart and soul and leader of our defense," Cullop said. "She gets it started, and the rest of the players follow suit."
Five players scored in double figures for Toledo (12-5, 4-0 MAC), which hadn't scored more than 63 points in a conference game until Saturday.
Senior guard Jessica Williams drained five 3-pointers for a game-high 17 points. Sophomore center and Start graduate Yolanda Richardson came off the bench to post 16 points and 10 rebounds, while senior forward Melissa Goodall had 12 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman guard Janelle Reed-Lewis chipped in with a career-high 10 points in 13 minutes in relief of Dortch.
Dortch exited the court to a standing ovation from the Rocket faithful with four minutes left in the contest after dropping in a foul shot to reach a new career-high of 11 points, but the applause was as much for her defensive efforts.
James had just eight points at halftime, six of which came on fast breaks, and was a nonfactor in the second half with just one 3-pointer and a late fast-break layup. She entered the contest averaging 17.5 points per game, which ranked her third in the MAC.
Last Wednesday, Dortch held Northern Illinois standout Marke Freeman to nine points, all in the first half.
"I'm just determined to play great defense for my team," Dortch said. "Defense is the main thing with me. I love playing defense. I love [guarding the opposing team's best player]. That shows that the coaches trust me."
Although the Rockets finished strong, they did not start fast.
UT missed its first five shots and allowed Eastern Michigan to take a 7-0 lead four minutes into the contest. Every one of the Eagles' buckets came on an offensive rebound putback — an indication of how much the Rockets missed sophomore forward Lecretia Smith, who sat out with a concussion suffered Wednesday against Northern Illinois.
"With [Smith] being out, we knew her intensity and her grit and her hustle were going to be missed," Goodall said. "That was the whole theme of this game. This was an opportunity for people who normally don't get those minutes or usually come off the bench."
Dortch started in place of Smith, and her defense, coupled with a renewed intensity on the boards and some hot shooting, allowed the Rockets to rebound from Eastern Michigan's early outburst.
UT went on a 17-1 run midway through the first half, ignited by back-to-back triples from Reed-Lewis, to take a 23-16 lead with five minutes left in the period and went into the break ahead 31-24.
The two teams traded buckets to start the second half, and then the Eagles were washed away by an offensive tidal wave.
Over a stretch of 7:32, Eastern Michigan shot just 2-of-13 from the field, while the Rockets were a scorching 9-of-11 and poured in 23 points to lead 56-34 after Reed-Lewis' jumper with 9:42 to play.
"The biggest thing we can gain from this game is offensive momentum," Cullop said. "We've struggled through some woes as of late putting the ball in the hole, and tonight it was like a weight being lifted off of us every time a shot went through."
Contact Zach Silka at: email@example.com or 419-724-6084.