Another dominating defensive performance gave the University of Toledo women’s basketball team an opportunity to win another invitational.
The Rockets ambushed Evansville out of the gate Thursday, winning 60-50 to advance to the championship game of the Toledo Invite today at Savage Arena. Toledo will try to win its third tournament of the year, and its second at home, when it takes on Prairie View A&M at 7 p.m.
The Rockets drew six charges in the first half and held Evansville to 17 percent shooting in the first 20 minutes to set the tone for a victory that was never in doubt despite a 10-point difference at the end.
Naama Shafir posted her fourth career double-double with 12 points and 10 assists — against zero turnovers — and Inma Zanoguera contributed 12 points on an evening when coach Tricia Cullop faced her former school.
"I was really proud of the focus our team had to start the game," Cullop said. "We jumped out to a nice lead, and our starters got us off the ground."
None of the Rockets played more than 27 minutes, which should bode well today when they square off against Prairie View A&M (3-5), which beat Hampton 49-42, in a matchup of teams that participated in last year’s NCAA tournament. Hampton led 19-9 at the half, as the teams combined to shoot 10 of 50 from the field.
"After watching the first half of that game, I thought it would go either way," Cullop said.
No one felt that way about the evening game. The Rockets (9-1) jumped out to leads of 13-2, 23-6, and 32-11 before heading into the locker room ahead 37-16. Such a dominant half came in spite of the team shooting just 41 percent. By Cullop’s count her team took six charges, including one by Janelle Reed-Lewis, whom Cullop does not recall taking a charge "even in practice."
"I think that’s an unselfish act that really goes a long way to take the momentum away from the [opponent]," Cullop said.
Added Shafir, who will be eying her third tournament MVP crown: "It was one of our goals to take charges. We knew they were looking to drive, and coach Cullop challenged us to take charges this game."
Toledo’s lead grew to 26 early in the second half before Cullop began substituting liberally.
Evansville (2-8) got 11 points and 11 rebounds from Mallory Ladd, whom Cullop has known for many years, made her season debut upon becoming eligible after her transfer from Valparaiso. Samantha Heck, whom Cullop’s staff was recruiting at Evansville before they left, scored 16.
Cullop, who began her career as a head coach in 2000-01 at Evansville, said it was "a little weird" to see the logo of the Purple Aces on Toledo’s scouting report.
"I wish them nothing but the best," she said. "That is such a classy organization. They gave me my start when I was 29. I don’t know how many people would have done that. ... I learned a lot through mistakes and they lived through my mistakes and I was really able to grow as a coach."
MEN’S COMMITMENT: The Toledo men's basketball team is soon expected to add an international player to its roster. Spaniard Angel Aparicio, a 6-foot-6 combo forward, is enrolled at the university and a determination on his eligibility for this season has not been made. Aparico, 19, played for the club team F.C. Barcelona. He is considered a redshirt freshman and will be put on scholarship.