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Published: 1/14/2013

Shafir perseveres to lift Rockets past Falcons

Point guard gives opposing defenses fits

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Bowling Green's Miriam Justinger tries to slip past Naama Shafir Sunday afternoon. The UT senior caused problems all day for the Falcons. Bowling Green's Miriam Justinger tries to slip past Naama Shafir Sunday afternoon. The UT senior caused problems all day for the Falcons.
BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge

BOWLING GREEN — Several setbacks threatened to derail Naama Shafir.

Officials whistled the University of Toledo guard three times early for traveling, intent on denying her the considerable step she likes to take to the basket. Shafir turned her ankle in the first half of Sunday’s matchup at Bowling Green State University and grimaced from the bench in the seconds before halftime.

And, just as she did Thursday against Central Michigan when she shouldered blame for being relegated to the bench in a rare home loss, Shafir picked up a couple of mindless fouls.

PHOTO GALLERY: Toledo at Bowling Green

RELATED ARTICLE: Shafir dashes BG’s hopes as Toledo bounces back

None of that mattered in the end after she hit a momentous 3-pointer to punctuate a 48-38 win.

"Teams have a hard time figuring out how to stop her," Shafir’s teammate, Inma Zanoguera, said. "They didn’t stop her tonight."

BG, however, did stop her on a decisive possession late, but that’s a small token of consolation given the end result of Shafir’s lucky launch.

About two minutes remained, with the Rockets clinging to a three-point lead. As the shot clock dwindled to one second, Shafir lifted off the ground from the left arc, and in an act of desperation, she threw the ball at the basket.

So many quality shots on the day for either team had failed to drop, so no one expected this hope and a prayer to find its way.

“I had my hand up, and I thought, ‘This [shot] is so off,’” Bowling Green’s Jillian Halfhill said.

To the astonishment of Halfhill, and the 3,327 fans at Stroh Center, the ball smacked the glass on the upper left corner of the square and caromed through the net. A year ago Toledo’s Courtney Ingersoll, held scoreless for the first 39 minutes, drained a late 3-pointer at Savage Arena that painted the narrative in a win over the Falcons. Shafir’s 3, by all accounts, was more improbable.

"Hallelujah," said Toledo coach Tricia Cullop, whose team has won the last four regular season meetings with BG.

“I can’t say [what I thought],” Falcons coach Jennifer Roos said. “When she released it, I knew it was off. … And it banked in."

Three days after she was caught up in foul trouble in a loss to Central Michigan, Shafir responded with a performance that which those on either side of the rivalry have come to expect from the fifth-year senior. She scored 13 of her team’s first 17 points and finished with a game-high 23. Her two free throws with 15 seconds to go expanded the lead to double-digits — a weak portrayal of a highly competitive game.

Other premier players struggled. BG’s Alexis Rogers and UT’s Yolanda Richardson, who guarded each other, had five and zero points, respectively. BG’s top scorer Chrissy Steffen scored eight points on 2 of 9 shooting, while two of UT’s best weapons, Inma Zanoguera and Andola Dortch, were a combined 5 of 20 from the field.

Shafir, who sat for a six-minute stretch in the second half against Central Michigan, ran out of time to will her team to a comeback. It was a sore point in the postgame news conference, with Shafir blaming herself for not being able to help when the game begun to slip away.

"In a game like this, Naama is going to be Naama," Roos said. "She got in foul trouble against Central Michigan the other night, so I anticipated her coming out and playing hard because she got robbed of some playing time."

That forecast was pinpoint. Her three-point play on a drive to the basket with 6 minutes, 25 seconds to go built UT’s lead to 35-31. Earlier she blocked a Steffen 3 from the wing.

And she banked in a lucky 3 that will for long be remembered in this rivalry.

"When you’re the other team and you play defense for almost 30 seconds and the last second they score like that, I’m sure it was hard for them," Shafir said. "At the same time it was big for us."

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



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