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Published: Thursday, 3/15/2012

Rockets ready for title defense

UT begins WNIT against Detroit

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Toledo coach Tricia Cullop and the Rockets will start the defense of their WNIT championship with a home game versus Detroit on Friday night. Toledo coach Tricia Cullop and the Rockets will start the defense of their WNIT championship with a home game versus Detroit on Friday night.
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Tricia Cullop is trying to push the appropriate buttons so her University of Toledo women's basketball team can replicate a feat from this time a year ago.

Winning another Women's National Invitational Tournament championship? In due time, perhaps, but that's not the immediate objective.

The first order of business the 2010-11 Rockets encountered before their magical postseason run last spring was recovering from a deflating loss in the Mid-American Conference tournament. The circumstances are not any different this time around as UT prepares to host Detroit in an opening round match up at 7 p.m. Friday. After the final horn sounded last Friday in UT's crushing semifinal loss to Eastern Michigan, Cullop advised her players to unwind for a couple of days and clear their heads.

"I gave them the weekend off," Cullop said. "They really needed to have some time away from each other just to think things through."

Much of the chatter enveloping the Rockets is whether they can reproduce last year's magic and be the first team to win two WNIT titles. Internally, the agenda is more narrow. Cullop is trying refocus her team after their NCAA tournament hopes came undone when they blew a 10-point lead to EMU with under eight minutes to go. That loss parallels last year, when top-seed UT fell to the Eagles in the semifinals.

"It was very difficult to stomach that loss, but I think it's a great motivator and that's what we did last season. We turned it around to be more of a motivational tool," Cullop said. "There's a lot of teams sitting at home right now who wish they had this opportunity."

Her players expressed similar thoughts.

"Not every team gets an opportunity to do this, so it's a great honor," Yolanda Richardson said.

Added Andola Dortch: "Of course we have to be excited to be playing still when most teams aren't."

Cullop said she hopes her administration will commit financially to UT hosting games for as long as the Rockets remain in the tournament, like last year, but that "it would be inappropriate for us to think beyond one game."

Detroit (20-13) rattled off 11 of 12 wins before falling to nationally-ranked Green Bay, 66-53, in the Horizon League title game. Green Bay, a seventh seed in the NCAA tournament, topped UT twice in the regular season.

The main worry Friday for UT will be Shareta Brown, a 6-foot forward averaging 17.7 points and 8.8 rebounds that Cullop called one of the premier post players the Rockets will face this season. Guard Senee Shearer, with 11.1 points, is the only other Titan averaging in double figures. Her 75 3-pointers are most on the team.

Should UT prevail, it will advance to play the winner of Friday's game between Cincinnati and Duquesne.

"I think any time you lose a heartbreaker of a game, it's great to be able to get back on the court and do something about it," Cullop said.

Rockets' Pearson named to NABC All-District team

University of Toledo sophomore Rian Pearson has been named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division I All-District 14 First Team.

The members of the squad, which was voted on by NABC coaches, are now eligible for the NABC Coaches' Division I All-America teams to be announced on Tuesday.

Pearson, who finished third in Mid-American Conference Player of the Year voting and was a second-team All-MAC honoree, is tied for second in the league in scoring (16.4), third in rebounding (8.5), and eighth in steals (1.6).

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @RyanAutullo.



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