Toledo's Naama Shafir steals the ball from Northern Illinois' Alicia Johnson during the first half at Savage Arena. Shafir scored 25.
BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge
The young girls and boys were restless by the end of this one.
The University of Toledo women’s basketball team put on a matinee showing Wednesday for area students that followed the manuscript for this impressive season. Which is to say Toledo crushed another hopeless opponent, securing the outcome well before the merciful sound of the final buzzer.
On the second-annual Rocket Educational Day — an initiative aimed at promoting academic success — it was Northern Illinois that was schooled, falling 72-40 in an outcome that warrants no context beyond the final score. It was Toledo’s 11th straight win and the team’s 11th win at home — all by double digits.
Next, the Rockets (23-2, 11-1) will try to avenge their only home defeat when they travel to Central Michigan on Sunday for a showdown between teams jousting for the Mid-American Conference West title and the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. The Chippewas — who trail Toledo by one game — are a talented bunch, evidenced by their seven-point win at Savage Arena six weeks ago.
"We know how important it is to finish in the first two seeds in the conference coming into the tournament," said Naama Shafir, who matched her season-high of 25 points. "Sunday is a big game. It’s going to make a difference."
PHOTO GALLERY: UT women defeat NIU
Andola Dortch heads up the court after stealing the ball from Northern Illinois' Amanda Corral during the second half. The Rockets are now 23-2 on the season.
BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge
Toledo, whose seniors are now tied with the 1995-99 class for most career victories with 101, has posted two 11-game win streaks separated by the loss to CMU in the MAC opener. Wednesday’s win embodied the theme of the latest streak, as the Rockets played tormenting defense to incrementally build leads. They were up by 10 following a so-so first half, up by 20 four minutes after the break, and up by 30 with six minutes to go. It was at that time the students — who ranged from grade school to junior high — started getting antsy. They squirmed and talked and made up cheers. A social studies lecture, by comparison, would not seem so tedious compared to the final minutes of this drubbing.
The public address announcer at one point implored the 1,200 children to scream, and they did as instructed, drowning the arena in a deafening roar.
"The referees were holding their ears a little bit," Toledo coach Tricia Cullop said. "There’s nothing better than that. Usually they do that when I yell."
Northern Illinois (7-18, 2-10), which last month fell to Toledo by only two points, got 12 points from Natecia Augusta. The Huskies, who turned the ball over 23 times compared to six assists, played their fourth game without their second-leading scorer, Satavia Taylor, who is out with an ACL tear.
Fourteen Rockets logged no fewer than three minutes, and 12 of them scored at least two points. Shafir, who drained all three of her 3-point tries, added four steals and three assists. She sported a considerable shiner below her right eye, the result of an errant elbow in Saturday’s win over Kent State.
"Maybe they were scared," Shafir joked.
Shafir said among the keys to beating Central Michigan is to "stay out of foul trouble." She was hard on herself for being tethered to the bench for much of the first meeting and being unable to rescue her team from the deft shooting of CMU’s Crystal Bradford. The electric sophomore torched the Rockets for 27 points.
"This is going to be a tough game, but we’re excited about the opportunity," Cullop said. "We felt like we did not play our best at home, and I felt like Central played well."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.