A headstrong guard unleashed an off-balanced shot from long distance in a tight game, the sort of low-percentage attempt that usually is followed by a coach motioning to a teammate to check in at the scorer’s table.
The ball miraculously went in, driving a dagger deep into the University of Toledo’s postseason run.
The details surrounding a 63-55 loss Thursday to Illinois draw parallels to the heartbreak finish of last season. Both times the Rockets were poised to knock off a team from a power conference in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, only to be felled by the make of a nearly impossible 3-pointer.
Amber Moore, the Illini sharpshooter, by all accounts should have never released the ball with more than 20 seconds to go on the shot clock in a see-saw affair. The reach of 5-foot, 10-inch Inma Zanoguera obstructed her view of the basket on the north end of Savage Arena, but Moore was undaunted.
The ball smacked the right edge of the square and flowed in through the hoop, placing the home team in a six-point hole with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left.
PHOTO GALLERY: UT women fall in WNIT
Toledo, which finished the season tied for the winningest team in program history, never mustered a comeback and continued to be stung by turnovers and point-blank misses.
“It’s frustrating, but we didn’t give up until the last second,” said senior Naama Shafir, whose final appearance at Toledo surely was met with a tear or two among the 3,410 who turned out for the third-round contest.
Moore, who made five 3s, was every bit the villain that Syracuse’s Rachel Coffey was last year when her deep and off-centered heave buried the Rockets with three seconds left.
“That wasn’t as frustrating as the easy ones we missed,” Toledo coach Tricia Cullop said. “Those are going to happen. That’s one shot and to see multiple opportunities and silly turnovers. ... But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Sometimes you can try so hard, you can want it so bad, you can put yourself out of your game.”
Confounded by a 2-3 buzz zone that dealt Toledo two losses last year when Illinois coach Matt Bollant was at Green Bay, the Rockets registered 23 turnovers — including eight in the first five minutes — and received bad shooting nights from premier players.
The backcourt of Shafir and Andola Dortch, along with small forward Zanoguera, shot a combined 14 of 50 from the field (28 percent) and committed 15 turnovers. This was not one of Shafir’s finer performances, as she missed all six of her 3-point tries and had eight turnovers.
“Shots didn’t fall in,” said Shafir, who had 10 points and was one of four Rockets to score in double figures. “We had good looks. We just didn’t make them. I know I missed a lot.”
The Rockets (29-4), who never led after Moore drained from long distance with 5:32 left, finished tied with the WNIT champion 2010-11 team for most wins in school history.
Illinois’ 6-2 center, Karisma Penn, was expectedly a handful, mixing jumpers, free throws, and inside touches for 23 points. She also grabbed 11 rebounds, though Toledo won the boards battle 47-40. Penn’s 18-footer with 1:53 left capped a 12-4 run, pushing Toledo’s deficit to eight.
“She just came out and had a good night,” said Toledo senior Yolanda Richardson, who had 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting but was hampered by foul trouble.
Illinois (19-13), which registered 13 steals and posted a single-season Big Ten record, advanced to the fourth round to play Kansas State.
Toledo, which is 11-2 the past three years in the WNIT, says good-bye to five seniors that formed the winningest class in program history.
“There’s going to be some question marks going forward but we’ll worry about that later,” Cullop said.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.