Falcons, UT expect a defensive struggle

Falcons, Rockets will find baskets hard to come by

  • Naama-Shafir-4

    Naama Shafir.

  • Naama Shafir.
    Naama Shafir.

    BOWLING GREEN — Bowling Green State University women’s basketball coach Jennifer Roos jokes with her staff about the “rock stars” from the University of Toledo team the Falcons will face today.

    Chrissy Steffen.
    Chrissy Steffen.

    “They’re the only team [whose players] are known by their first names,” Roos said. “There’s ‘Yo’ and ‘Naama’ and ‘Crunch’ — you don’t even need a last name. …

    “It sounds silly to say, but the more famous you are, the more you are known by one name, like Madonna.”

    Toledo coach Tricia Cullop enjoyed the joke, then had an explanation for why players like Naama Shafir are referred to by a single name.

    “I think some people are afraid to pronounce ‘Zanoguera’ and ‘Shafir,’ ” she said.

    RELATED STORY: Late-game heroics lift Falcon men's basketball team

    While they may not be able to pronounce the names, both teams know plenty about their arch-rivals as the two teams prepare to meet at 2 p.m. today at the Stroh Center.

    It is expected to be a low-scoring contest since it features statistically the two top defensive teams in the Mid-American Conference.

    Bowling Green leads the MAC in scoring defense, allowing just 54.4 points per game, while the Rockets are next at 55.4.

    Toledo has won the last two meetings, using an impressive late-game defensive stand to win both times. Two years ago the Rockets snapped a six-game losing streak at Anderson Arena with a last-second defensive stop, and last year UT won at Savage Arena by scoring the final eight points in a 52-50 win.


    Toledo at Bowling Green

    Time: 2 p.m.

    Records: UT is 12-2, 0-1 MAC; BG is 10-4, 1-0.

    TV: SportsTime Ohio.

    Radio: 88.1, 1230.

    Series: BG leads 41-28.

    Notes: The Falcons and Rockets meet for the 70th edition of the “Battle of I-75,” with Toledo having won the last two meetings as well as the last three regular-season matchups. … BG is looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak in the series since 2001-03. … Among those on the bench for the Rockets is graduate assistant manager Jessica Slagle, an All-MAC performer for the Falcons last season. … Toledo is coming off a 73-66 loss to Central Michigan that snapped an 11-game winning streak. … UT’s Inma Zanoguera had a career-high 19 points against the Chippewas and added eight assists, six rebounds, and three steals. … The Rockets are looking to avoid their first 0-2 start in MAC play since the 2006-07 squad lost its first three league contests. … Bowling Green’s first MAC game was a 69-33 thrashing of Kent State in which the Falcons allowed the fewest points in a game since limiting Akron to 32 in a 29-point win on Jan. 3, 2007. Deborah Hoekstra and Katrina Salinas each had 12 points in the win, meaning all 11 Falcons who have seen action this season have scored in double figures at least once. The pair helped the BG bench finish with 40 points, meaning the reserves outscored the starters (29 points) and the entire KSU team (33 points).

    The Rockets are led by Shafir, who averages 12.7 points per game with 5.4 assists per game, and Andola Dortch (10.6 ppg, 3.8 apg).

    Along with 9.9 points per game, Yolanda Richardson leads the team in rebounding with 6.6 per game.

    “They make you play fast, and they change their defensive assignments on how they handle things like ball screens,” Roos said of the Rockets. “I think coach Cullop is the best play-caller in the conference, and she has a good feeling of the pulse of her team.”

    The Rockets face not only the pressure of playing in front of large crowd at the Stroh Center, but the pressure of earning a win to avoid an 0-2 start in Mid-American Conference play.

    “I think our pressure is to show that we are a better team than we showed on Thursday,” Cullop said of her team’s 73-66 loss to Central Michigan. “I don’t ask my team to play scared to lose; I ask them to play to win. I don’t want to put the negative into their minds. I want them to walk off the court knowing they gave everything they had to help us win.”

    Chrissy Steffen leads the BG attack with 12.0 points per game and 4.7 rebounds along with Alexis Rogers (10.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Jillian Halfhill (9.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

    Roos said she didn’t need to know the Rockets had lost Thursday to be wary of the team her squad will face today.

    “I would be concerned if they were undefeated — and I would be concerned if they had not won a game when they came in here,” Roos said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re 0-15 or 0-1, or Toledo is 0-15 or 0-1, this game always has the potential to go to quadruple-overtime.

    “This is a big rivalry — and it’s a fun rivalry.”

    Cullop also called it a “fun” rivalry, adding, “The players and fans for both teams look forward to it. When I first took this job, one of the first things fans asked me about was this game. So I understand how important it is.”

    Even though Bowling Green’s Miriam Justinger is a freshman, the Northview product understands the importance of this rivalry, too.

    “I know how big this game is,” Justinger said. “I know it probably will be sold out, so we have to come in focused and prepared. And I think we will.”

    Contact John Wagner at: jwagner@theblade.com, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.