Toledo senior Melissa Goodall drives past Auburn's Peyton Davis. Goodall scored 12 points for the Rockets. THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This PhotoBestowed with considerable size and talent, Yolanda Richardson seems to be finally discovering how good she really can be.
The Start graduate tied her career-high with 20 points in the Rockets' 67-52 rout of Auburn in the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament Saturday in front of 1,390 at Savage Arena.
Richardson, a 6-2 sophomore center, also posted eight rebounds and two blocks and has scored in double figures in four of her last seven games.
"It's really kind of opened up my eyes to knowing that I could really help this team out in many ways," Richardson said. "I've gotten a boost in confidence after these last couple games."
The Rockets (25-8), who never trailed in the contest, advance to play the winner of today's matchup between Northwestern and Alabama. The site and date of the third-round game will be announced Sunday evening.
UT officials have submitted their bid for a third home game in the WNIT, and there's a strong chance the Rockets could be picked to host.
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"We were blessed to get the first game [at home], and we were equally blessed to get the second game. It was a surprise, but it was definitely a welcome surprise," said senior forward Melissa Goodall, who along with junior guard Naama Shafir chipped in with 12 points.
"We'll see where our next game takes us. If this was my last game [at Savage Arena], then I'm happy to go out the way we did."
Goodall and Richardson were a force Auburn (16-16) never found an answer for.
Despite the Tigers' considerable height with six players listed at 6-2 or taller, Toledo tallied a season-high 48 points in the paint while holding Auburn to 20. The Rockets also out-rebounded Auburn 44-36.
"We faced a tall, athletic, physical team, and it was exciting to watch us out-rebound them because our kids scrapped," UT coach Tricia Cullop said. "We had to do a great job on the boards in order to have a chance [to win], because if we gave them second and third chances, sooner or later they were going to make us pay."
Richardson gave UT its largest lead of the game with back-to-back buckets that capped a 6-0 run, making it 43-21 with 14:26 remaining.
Later in the second half after Auburn had cut the deficit to 13 with 8:02 to play, Richardson again had back-to-back layups from the low post that capped a 12-4 run and put the Tigers away for good.
"She is just continuing to blossom as the season goes on, and I hope we continue to play so we can see how far she can go," Cullop said of Richardson, who was Toledo's first recruit from the City League since 1993.
In addition to their work down low, the Rockets also held Auburn's leading scorer Alli Smalley to 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting.
Redshirt freshman guard Andola Dortch was the primary defender on Smalley, and Dortch stymied her as she has done with numerous other playmakers Toledo faced this season.
"I thought Andola Dortch did a tremendous job defensively," Cullop said. "Smalley is a tremendous player and to see her tired — because Andola spent most of the game hounding her up and down the court — really paid dividends for us."
NOTES: This is the furthest Toledo has advanced in the WNIT since its fifth-place finish in 1994. … UT is 2-0 at home against Southeastern Conference opponents. … The Rockets have won 14-straight at Savage Arena and are 15-1 at home this season.
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