Inma Zanoguera’s basketball career is circling back to its starting point, where a click of a mouse opened her world to a raucous arena and a rocking team.
Internet videos documenting the ride to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament title this time two years ago inspired the Spaniard to join the University of Toledo, where she is intent this spring on producing more late-season memories.
The Rockets took another step in their championship hunt Saturday, ending Youngstown State’s improbably successful season in a 61-43 rout tinged with impressive play from their sophomore wing. Zanoguera took charges, jumped passing lanes, and shut down one of the top post players in the Midwest.
Had she done nothing else, Zanoguera’s performance would have warranted an “atta girl.” But she also poured in a career-high 24 points, showing no signs of deceleration in a season that started in August, when she helped Spain to the U20 European championship.
“When we found out we were not getting into the NCAA tournament, I went back to one of the reasons I came here,” she said. “I reminded myself this is a pretty cool tournament, and I really want to win this thing.”
With the victory Toledo (29-3) is even with the 2010-11 team for most wins in program history. The tie can be broken next week, but the Rockets must first await the result of the Eastern Illinois-Illinois second round matchup Monday to learn of their opponent.
Zanoguera’s game has risen the past two years. She drained long shots Thursday in an opening-round win against Butler, posting 16 points for her second-highest total of the season. A year ago she logged a season-high 30 minutes against Syracuse and exceeded her scoring average (3.9 points per game) in all four games, using the WNIT as a jumping point into a sophomore year that delivered on high preseason expectations.
“When we’ve been in trouble this year she’s somebody that can step up and hit a big shot,” said coach Tricia Cullop, who recently derided Mid-American Conference coaches for not voting Zanoguera higher than third team. “She showed it this game. She showed it last game. When the game got tight, she stepped up.”
Only once did YSU (23-10) raise concern — trimming a second-half deficit from 17 to 10 — and Zanoguera was at the other end to make things right again. Five straight points by her, on a three-point play and on a layup, kicked the lead back to 17 with 11 minutes, 32 seconds left.
A crowd of 2,568 could relax for the rest of the day.
Zanoguera, who has played all but nine minutes in the tournament, was 3 for 3 from long distance, a level of perfection she had not reached this season.
“Oh, great,” YSU coach Bob Boldon said. “Tell her thanks.”
Zanoguera and Lecretia Smith traded off guarding Horizon League player of the year Brandi Brown, forcing her into five turnovers. Brown, who entered the day averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, scored 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting and fouled out with about five minutes left.
Talented freshman Shar’Rae Davis fouled out seven minutes earlier.
Naama Shafir added 14 points and a game-high eight rebounds for the Rockets, who have yet to trail through the first 80 minutes of the tournament.
YSU, which went 0-30 three years ago and made its first postseason appearance since 2000, turned the ball over 10 times in the opening 12 minutes and was whistled for a charge five times. Toledo led 21-5.
“They’ve done a great job of pressuring the ball all year,” Boldon said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.