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Published: Sunday, 12/23/2012

UT women switch to zone defense, win inaugural Toledo Invite

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The Rockets' Andola Dortch drives the ball to the basket during the second quarter against the Prairie View A&M Panthers. Dortch scored 11 points. The Rockets improved to 10-1 on the season. The Rockets' Andola Dortch drives the ball to the basket during the second quarter against the Prairie View A&M Panthers. Dortch scored 11 points. The Rockets improved to 10-1 on the season.
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With her team in an unfamiliar spot, Tricia Cullop made an unusual move.

After watching Prairie View A&M dissect man-to-man pressure Friday in the championship game of the inaugural Toledo Invite, the University of Toledo coach weighed two options.

"Do we stick with it and be stubborn, and do what we always do, or do something different?" Cullop said later.

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Cullop’s bold decision to switch to a 2-3 zone, which her team has not practiced in several weeks let alone used in a game, proved to be the pivot point in a 76-41 romp.

Encountering a defensive alignment they surely had not expected to see, the Panthers managed just 11 points in the second half to go away quietly, dismissing early indications that they, unlike all other visiting opponents, would give the Rockets a close game at Savage Arena.

Toledo, a perfect three-for-three in claiming tournament titles, gave up just five field goals during the final 22 minutes of a game that once was tied 28-28.

"When I called out zone, our players did a double take," Cullop said, adding "we were kind of teaching the zone as the game went along."

The victory, which makes Toledo just one of three teams in program history to start 10-1, registers as a nice segue into a brief break for Christmas. Cullop cut her players loose after the game, and most will travel to be with their families before returning to campus Wednesday to begin preparations on another tournament — their fourth — Dec. 29-30 at Georgia State.

Two international players will stay in Toledo.

"I guess I’m going to hang out with Naama," Inma Zanoguera said of point guard Naama Shafir. "We’re going to tell each other how much we love each other. We’re going to be a Christmas family."

Both were in a jolly spirit Friday after collecting tournament accolades — Shafir the MVP, and Zanoguera as a member of the tournament team.

Shafir was a clear choice, having scored 12 straight points for the Rockets in a span of less than three minutes that bridged the two halves. Her 3-pointer in the first minute of the second half widened the gap to 41-30, and it only got worse the rest of the way for Prairie View A&M (3-6).

One night after she recorded a double-double against Evansville, Shafir — who has garnered MVP honors in all three tournaments — drilled all four of her 3s and finished with a season-high 25 points.

Naama Shafir — who has garnered MVP honors in all three tournaments — drilled all four of her 3s and finished with a season-high 25 points. Naama Shafir — who has garnered MVP honors in all three tournaments — drilled all four of her 3s and finished with a season-high 25 points.
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"Naama came to play today," said Yolanda Richardson, who finished with 12 points, five rebounds, and four blocked shots. "All of her shots were pretty much falling. She was creating very well tonight."

Cullop viewed Shafir’s performance as a positive step in her return to normalcy after undergoing ACL surgery last year.

"It’s good to see her taking those shots because that’s been something that hasn’t always been her forte so far this season," Cullop said. "She’s getting her legs back. It was good to see her step up with confidence and knock down those shots the way she did."

Zanoguera — who did a little of everything in totaling six boards, three steals, three assists, and two points — was joined on the tournament team by the Prairie View tandem of Latia Williams (14 points) and JaQuandria (12 points). Rounding out the team was Evansville’s Mallory Ladd and Hampton’s Nicole Hamilton.

Hampton topped Evansville in the consolation game 64-45.

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



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