The Blade/Lori King
Everyone remembers the Indiana game from last November, the fateful date on the schedule when the University of Toledo’s season came unglued with a devastating injury to its best player.
Few, aside from the Rockets, recall what happened next. Two days later they put forth a weak effort in a loss to a mediocre Arkansas State team, and that was just the beginning of an awful day.
The team flight never arrived to pick them up, forcing Toledo to call an 11th hour audible and travel home on an agonizingly-long bus ride.
"Our players didn’t forget how that felt," coach Tricia Cullop said Friday.
Most early season losses are quickly forgotten, but not that one, and the Rockets exacted a measure of revenge with a 56-34 pounding of the Red Wolves in front of 3,701 fans who turned out at Savage Arena for the season opener.
Coaches typically expect their defense to be ahead of their offense at this point of the year, and Cullop is no different. Toledo offset a lackluster shooting night by forcing 24 turnovers, registering 15 steals, and holding ASU scoreless for the first eight minutes of the second half.
This marked the eighth time in Cullop’s five seasons at Toledo her team held an opponent to under 40 points.
"I’m really proud that our defense is getting to where we need it to be quicker than it has in the past," she said. "Hopefully soon our offense will follow."
Inma Zanoguera posted her first double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while posting five steals, and Janelle Reed-Lewis built on her sizzling performance in Saturday’s exhibition win over Wayne State with a team-high 13 points off the bench. Naama Shafir, making her first regular season appearance since tearing the ACL in her right knee last year at Indiana, contributed 12 points, eight boards, and four steals.
Toledo, the preseason pick to win the Mid-American Conference, trailed just once — 9-8 — and led by double digits for the final 17 minutes of the game.
"We definitely feel like we’re a defensive team before an offensive team," said center Yolanda Richardson, who recovered from a groin injury that sidelined her in the exhibition game to chip in eight points and six rebounds.
Toledo shot 38 percent and made just 3 of 16 3-pointers, several that which were way off the mark.
ASU, which finished 12-18 last year and is picked to finish second in the Sun Belt’s West division, received 12 points from versatile forward Jane Morrill. Morrill dominated the paint early, outmaneuvering Richardson and Kyle Baumgartner, but was just 1 of 6 from the field in the second half for two points.
Brian Boyer’s team was stuck on four second-half points before Toledo subbed in a wave of reserves with 2:20 to go.
"We had some success inside in the first half," Boyer said. "In the second half they were really, really physical with us."
A discomforting sight came six minutes into the game when Toledo’s Andola Dortch was helped to the locker room after injuring her knee diving for a ball. The fear was Dortch, who has torn the ACL in both of her knees, had endured another debilitating injury. Several minutes later the team’s top scorer from last year and its best on-ball defender returned to the bench. She started the second half on the floor, and Cullop believes Dortch might have suffered a mild sprain.
"Andola’s a tough little cookie," Richardson said.
As is Toledo’s defense, which held ASU to 27 percent shooting from the field and 1 of 11 on 3s. It was a stark contrast from last year’s version, when the Red Wolves prevailed 64-56 in Jonesboro, Ark.
"That bus ride back home last year was not good," Richardson said.
FLUELLEN HONORED: Toledo football player David Fluellen was announced Friday as one of 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s top running back. Fluellen, who leads the country with 1,381 rushing yards, has notched six straight games of 100 yards or more. The field will be trimmed to three finalists on Nov. 19.
LOYOLA 62, TOLEDO 50
CHICAGO — The Rockets dropped the opening game of their basketball season as Julius Brown led the way in a losing effort, with 15 points on 6 of 16 shooting.
Dominique Buckley scored nine points and Rian Pearson added eight points.
Ben Averkamp paced the Ramblers with 15 points on 5 of 12 shooting from the field and Joe Crisman added 10 points.
Loyola outrebounded Toledo 43-30 and made six 3-pointers to only four for Toledo.
Pearson led the Rockets with eight rebounds and freshman center Nathan Boothe led the team with two assists.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.