Akron’s DiAndra Gibson, left, and Toledo’s Janelle Reed-Lewis battle for possession.
The worst home loss in the Tricia Cullop era at the University of Toledo preceded the most candid news conference of those six seasons.
Speaking to a room of reporters Thursday after a gutless 82-62 defeat, Cullop did to her team what Akron had done. She ripped into them.
In an impassioned six-minute diatribe, she threatened to take away starting spots from underperforming players and suggested some of her players aren’t invested in doing what’s needed to salvage a season stuck in neutral. She directed most of her anger at a dreadful start to her team’s 19th game of the year, a 10-minute spurt in which the Rockets showed no desire to defend and fell behind by 20 points.
“I think it’s safe to say our team in the first half did not play with the passion, the desire, the competitiveness, and the pride that we’ve come accustomed to seeing,” Cullop said. “I was extremely disappointed in that.”
That was her opening statement. The coach, whose team fell behind by 29 points in the second half, was just getting started.
“The biggest thing we need to fix is maybe start a different line up, maybe play different kids, and find five kids who want to start the game with passion and desire, and competitiveness and pride.”
The loss was easily the worst of Toledo’s 93 home games since Cullop took over, trumping a 13-point setback from this season’s opener versus Drexel. The last time a Toledo team was walloped worse at home was February, 2008, when Bowling Green pasted the Rockets, 71-41. Speaking of Bowling Green, the Falcons will strut into Savage Arena on Sunday with a 17-3 record. The Rockets (9-10, 4-4) have won the last three meetings.
Cullop said she is no more or less agitated by her team’s performance Thursday that it happened three days before a rivalry game.
“Whether it’s before the BG game or any time, it’s not acceptable,” she said. “I don’t care if this is the first game of the season. It’s not acceptable. I don’t care what’s before it or what’s after it. In my opinion, none of our teams should ever play like that.”
UT coach Tricia Cullop wears a firefighter pin during the game against Akron. The players and coaches wore the pins in memorial of the city’s fallen firefighters.
Behind a prodigious offense averaging 82 points, Akron (11-8, 5-3) raced out to leads of 10-2 and 25-5, moving the ball in transition and knocking down shots from anywhere on the court. It’s not a stretch to says the Zips have three or four shooters better than Toledo’s top marksman. The Rockets missed 23 of 26 3-pointers and shot 31 percent from the field.
The Zips shot 52 percent in the first half before cooling to 40 for a total of 47 percent.
The Mid-American Conference’s leading scorer, Rachel Tecca, had 17 points and 11 rebounds in her first appearance since torching Eastern Michigan on Sunday for a school record 43 points and 22 rebounds. Hanna Luburgh, who trails only Tecca in MAC scoring, had 23 points and six rebounds. Reserve Carly Young poured in 15 points — 10 above her average.
Unwilling or unable to defend the Zips, Toledo also fell short trying to trade baskets even though Akron ranks among the worst defensive teams in the league.
“We learned if everybody’s not invested we’re not going to win games,” forward Inma Zanoguera said. “We’re limited in numbers, we work hard, but it stands out when just half of the team shows up.”
Zanoguera, who led with 13 points and six boards, shouldered blame, saying “she wasn’t there for my team,” in the first half.
Cullop said she told her players after the game “to look at the score and understand that doesn’t happen here.”
“It was not an X’s and O’s problem,” she said. “It was a heart and desire problem, and that’s something I hope you never say about one of my teams again.”
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.