The University of Toledo’s Yolanda Richardson, the Mid-American Conference’s most accurate shooter, missed two shots from underneath the basket. Her teammate, sharp-shooting Courtney Ingersoll, fired an air ball.
Multiple empty possessions contributed to a wretched start for the Rockets in an important league game Wednesday against Miami. And yet Miami assistant coach Mark Ehlen felt uneasy about it.
“I thought, oh shoot, you knew more was coming,” Ehlen said.
His forecast was spot on. Ehlen, UT’s head coach from 1995-2008, watched in somewhat disbelief at Savage Arena as the Rockets snapped out of an early funk in plenty of time to steamroll a strong Miami team 79-66 and remain tied atop the West division standings.
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Although UT coach Tricia Cullop and her players refused to sell this win as a major accomplish, it was significant. The Rockets seem to have hit a groove, evidenced by them dismantling three straight opponents by an average of about 16 points. They battled back from deficits of 11-0 and 16-3 against a RedHawks squad expected to contend in the East and had cemented the win by the halfway point of the second half when Janelle Reed-Lewis hit a 3 to swell the lead to 18. UT did more than compensate for its early misses by making a blistering 69 percent of its shots (20 of 29) in the second half.
“This is a great win for us,” Cullop said. “Not a lot of people are going to get this win.”
Andola Dortch led the way with 25 points, including seven straight after halftime to give UT the lead for good. Haylie Linn pumped in four 3-pointers in the second half and finished with five of them for 15 points. With nine assists, Dortch tied a career high. Linn set a new personal best with eight assists, recording one for every three minutes she played.
The first five minutes or so couldn’t have gone much worse. As is customary at home games, spectators remain standing after the tip-off until UT scores its first bucket. They finally were able to rest their legs at the 15:11 mark when Ingersoll knocked down a 3 to end an 11-0 Miami run. A little later, Courtney Boyer nailed her third 3 to that point, pulling the RedHawks (15-5, 5-2) ahead 16-3.
“It’s not good to look up at the scoreboard and be down 13 in the first five minutes,” Linn said.
There was never a sense UT was in big trouble though. As basketball observers are aware, home teams generally don’t stay cold forever, and it’s inevitable a hot-shooting road team will cool. Both points were true Wednesday, as UT scored the next 10 points after Boyer’s 3 to tighten the deficit to three. By halftime, the Rockets trailed just 29-28.
Cullop probably wishes she could bottle up her team’s performance in the second half. They moved the ball with precision along the perimeter, sometimes finding the open shooter for a 3, and other times dropping the ball inside to Richardson (12 points). Defensively, Dortch and Reed-Lewis stayed tight to Miami’s leading scorer Courtney Osborn, who needed all 40 minutes and 13 field-goal attempts to record 17 points.
Ehlen was impressed.
“If they can put an outside game with their inside game, they’re going to be tough to stop,” he said.
ODDITY: Dating back to Sunday’s win at Ohio, UT went three consecutive halves without a free-throw attempt before Reed-Lewis went to the line at the 16:35 mark of the second half. Cullop joked her team’s few trips to the line “might be a good thing” because of their struggles. UT was 4 of 9 Wednesday, which will drop its season percent of 63.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160, or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.