BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge
A couple of weeks back University of Toledo women’s basketball coach Tricia Cullop adopted a defensive grading system used by men’s coach Tod Kowalczyk that assigns every point scored by an opponent to a Toledo player.
Think of it as golf. High scores are no good.
After Thursday’s sloppy win over Northern Illinois, Cullop’s analysis yielded an unlikely conclusion. The two highest scores on the team belonged to the two best players on the team.
PHOTO GALLERY: UT women beat Miami 68-52
“I shared that with the whole team,” Cullop said. “I think those two took it to heart.”
Andola Dortch and Inma Zanoguera should score better after Sunday’s 68-52 home triumph over Miami. The All Mid-American Conference performers engineered a stout defensive effort to counter the team’s mediocre shooting, a performance that harkens to past seasons when the Rockets raised championship banners on the foundation of ball pressure, communication, and swatting unworthy layups.
Dortch, the two-time league defensive player of the year, set the tone early with active hands on the perimeter, forcing two steals, drawing a charge, and erasing a baseline jumper as the Rockets constructed leads of 17-5, 28-11, and, by halftime, 37-21. Aside from five turnovers, her stat line offers no complaints — five steals, five assists, six rebounds, six points.
“Coach has been getting on me about my defense, so I had to step up and do what I do best for our team, and that’s play defense,” Dortch said.
Credit Dortch for Miami’s guards combining for 15 of the RedHawks’ 20 turnovers.
“The other point guards didn’t want any part of her,” said Zanoguera, who contributed to the defensive cause with two steals and nine rebounds.
Cullop said Thursday’s poor grades were a reflection of Dortch and Zanoguera gambling too often, something they could get away with in past seasons with prolific shot blocker Yolanda Richardson patrolling the paint. That same approach now will result in points allowed and fouls incurred by teammates.
“When those two will be our lead-by-example type of defensive players, we’re a much better team,” Cullop said.
Zanoguera’s 18 points were most on a team that saw five players score at least nine points. Ana Capotosto was next in line with 10 points, making one of just two Rockets 3-pointers among 20 attempted.
The win was UT’s 20th in a row over an opponent from the MAC’s East division, an astounding run that will be on the line Wednesday when the Rockets go to Buffalo, which is better than its 0-3 league mark suggests.
BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge
UT (7-7, 2-1) is eying its first three-game win streak of the season and could establish momentum in a relatively soft spot of its league schedule. Stephanie Recker, who missed her eighth game with a back injury, should be back soon, said Cullop, who didn’t sound confident Recker will play at Buffalo. Lindsay Baker, who was not in the arena for the second straight game recovering from concussion-like symptoms, will likely be unavailable.
The 52 points Miami put up are the second fewest Toledo has surrendered, eclipsed only by the 48 Mississippi Valley State managed in the opening weekend of the season. The RedHawks (4-10, 0-3), who settled for outside shots early out of frustration of not getting into the paint, scored 78 points or more in their three prior games. Their icy 30 percent shooting from the field is encouraging for Toledo, which entered the day ninth in the league in field goal percentage defense and three days earlier allowed Northern Illinois to almost come back from 18 points down midway through the second half. A failed Huskies layup at the buzzer prevented overtime.
“Our team is learning and understanding how to play defense and we’re playing better defense,” Cullop said. “We’re contesting shots, we’re rebounding, and we’re doing some very good things. We’re not there yet, but I’m much more proud of what we’re doing now defensively than what we were doing earlier in the season.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.