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Published: Thursday, 3/10/2011

PHOTO GALLERY

Shafir's game-high 28 points helps UT overcome scrappy Zips

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

UT's Naama Shafir drives around Akron's Jasmine Mushington Wednesday in the Rockets' MAC quarterfinal win at Cleveland. Shafir had 28 points. UT's Naama Shafir drives around Akron's Jasmine Mushington Wednesday in the Rockets' MAC quarterfinal win at Cleveland. Shafir had 28 points.
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CLEVELAND -- Even a balky left knee, an energized, upset-minded opponent and an underperforming supporting cast couldn't stifle Naama Shafir.

The University of Toledo junior guard scored 20 of her game-high 28 points in the second half, despite spending extended time on the bench getting treatment on her knee, and the Rockets overcame a scare from No. 8 seed Akron Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament at Quicken Loans Arena.

Tied 32-all at halftime and trailing by eight with 17:46 remaining, Toledo (23-7) rallied with a 14-2 run midway through the final period and prevailed 73-65 over the Zips (14-16).

The top-seeded Rockets next take on Eastern Michigan in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Friday.

"That's got to be one of the best eight seeds [ever] in our tournament," UT coach Tricia Cullop said of Akron in her opening remarks after the game. "They're better than an eight seed and … they gave us all we could handle."

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to view images

Shafir scored seven points during a 9-0 run that gave UT 57-52 lead with 5:29 remaining, then helped seal the victory by hitting 6 of 8 at the free throw line in the final 4:04. She finished 12 of 16 at the line.

"We just needed to refocus, pay attention to details, play hard, and have energy," Shafir said.

As for her knee, which sidelined her at the 15:02 mark in the second half, and sent her momentarily to the locker room before she re-entered the game for good during a timeout with 13:02 remaining, Shafir didn't express much concern.

"I'll be fine," she said. "When you play, you just have to play. It doesn't matter [if you're hurt]. You don't feel anything. I trust our trainers and I'll be ready for [Friday]."

The Rockets need her. They also needed sophomore forward and Start graduate Yolanda Richardson in the waning moments of the first half.

Richardson scored six of her 10 points in the final 1:28 of the period to knot the two teams at the break. She also registered nine rebounds, five blocks and two steals in the contest.

"From the moment I woke up this morning, I was excited," Richardson said. "I came out with my head on ready to play. I knew as soon as I stepped on the court what I had to do for my team."

Senior forward Melissa Goodall finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, but was a disappointing 3 of 13 from the field, including 1 of 7 from the 3-point line, along with six turnovers.

Toledo totaled 14 turnovers -- eight in the second half -- and was 3 of 18 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range.

Toledo's Yolanda Richardson, right, tries to get around Akron's Rachel Tecca. Richardson had 10 points and nine rebounds. Toledo's Yolanda Richardson, right, tries to get around Akron's Rachel Tecca. Richardson had 10 points and nine rebounds.
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"I thought we were passive offensively," Cullop said. "We were standing around watching a couple players try to create things and making it very easy for Akron to guard us."

Defensively, Toledo wasn't up to par either. The Zips shot 42 percent (11 of 26) in the first half and made six of their first nine field-goal attempts after the break, capped by Jasmine Mushington's fastbreak lay-in that gave Akron a 50-43 lead with 13:03 to play.

"We've got a target on our backs having won a regular-season championship," Cullop said, "so every game needs to be treated like a championship game or you won't get there.

"It's very obvious that Akron came ready to play."

Mushington and Kara Murphy led the Zips with 14 points apiece, and Taylor Ruper drained four 3-pointers to finish with 12.

"I'm very proud of our young ladies," Akron coach Jodi Kest said. "I thought we gave Toledo a run for their money."

NOTES: Akron had three players foul out -- Mushington, Rachel Tecca, and Carly Young -- and was whistled for 27 fouls, compared to 16 against Toledo. … A fan bus bound for Quicken Loans Arena will leave Lot 4 on UT's campus near Savage Arena at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Cost is $25. If interested, call Bob Fountain at 419-382-4627 by noon Thursday to RSVP.

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



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