For the University of Toledo women’s basketball team, offense may come and go — but defense is forever.
The Rockets had times where the offense played well against Cleveland State on Saturday, but there were times when it didn’t. That didn’t matter, though, because the defense was rugged throughout as UT posted a lopsided 81-42 win at Savage Arena.
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“Coach [Tricia Cullop] always says, ‘If there’s one thing you can control, it’s defense — and how hard you work,’ “ said Toledo’s Kyle Baumgartner, who finished with 11 points. “When the ball isn’t going in the basket, you can play hard on defense and get another chance to go back down and score.
“Defense can give you a lot of momentum. And when you get a stop on defense, it can take a lot out of the other team. Then they don’t want to play defense against you.”
Baumgartner was one of four Rockets to finish in double figures as Andola Dortch had 13, while Riley McCormick had four 3-pointers for 12 points, and Start High School grad Yolanda Richardson had 11. All 11 players scored for UT, which improved to 6-3.
Takima Keane and Destinee Blue each had 11 points to lead Cleveland State (3-5).
The Rockets came out blazing-hot on offense, making 7-of-8 shots from the field to take an early 16-2 lead.
“It has taken us a while to get in synch [offensively], and that’s going to happen,” Cullop said. “When you take [injured guard Naama Shafir] out of the mix, we have a lot of kids who are learning how to distribute the ball better.
“And we’re getting there. We’ve spent a lot of time in practice working on creating opportunities — [working on] passing angles, timing, fakes. We’ve really gotten back to basics, and it’s paying off.”
While the offense cooled off — Toledo missed its next nine shots and made just seven of its final 30 shots (23.3 percent) — the defense never relented. The Rockets forced Cleveland State to commit 15 first-half turnovers and shoot 29.2 percent from the field and UT built a 37-14 halftime lead.
In the second half the Rockets never allowed the Vikings to get closer than 18 points and eventually won by 39. UT’s strong second-half effort, which included causing CSU to turn the ball over 18 more times, helped the second-half offense shoot 54.8 percent from the field and score 44 points.
“Any time you’re hitting shots, it fuels your defense,” Cullop said. “But we were getting high-percentage shots because we were playing such good defense.
“When you’re doing that, you put yourself in a wonderful position. And then we executed.”
A whopping 42 of Toledo’s points came in the paint thanks to strong efforts by Richardson, Baumgartner and Central Catholic grad Brianna Jones, who had six points.
“They were playing behind us and weren’t doubling us [on the post], and most teams have been doubling us,” Baumgartner said. “We wanted to take advantage of that.”
NOTES: Cleveland State assistant coach Bernard Scott is a UT alumnus and was a Rocket assistant from 2001-05. ... Five Rockets finished with season highs in points, including McCormick, Richardson, Stephanie Recker (seven), Jones, and Janelle Reed-Lewis (five). ... UT outrebounded the Vikings 42-31 thanks in part to 18 offensive rebounds. Inma Zanoguera led the Rockets with a career-high nine boards.