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The Mid-American Conference’s women’s basketball rivalry in northwest Ohio has produced some classic battles of late, and the next one might end up falling in line.
Today’s noon tilt at Savage Arena could also be a mismatch, an unlikely thought for a series highlighted by three one-score contests the past five meetings.
In virtually any objective measurement, Bowling Green State University has a team superior to the University of Toledo. The Falcons (17-3), winners of eight of their last nine, are pushing for a MAC title at 7-1 in the league. The Rockets (9-10, 4-4 MAC), conversely, are mired in mediocrity, trading wins and losses and drawing the ire of their coach last week.
Tricia Cullop, whose team has beaten BG the past three meetings, capped off a dreadful night on Thursday by threatening to shake up her starting lineup in the wake of a 20-point home loss to Akron. The Rockets may be at a crossroads, and nothing would nudge them in the right direction better than an upset win over their nemesis.
Cullop offered the only silver lining to the worst home loss in her six seasons at Toledo, suggesting “any time you play like this, it’s great to have a game following it.”
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It is the 72nd installment of a series in which BG controls 41-30. This will be the only regular-season matchup.
BG coach Jennifer Roos isn’t subscribing to the idea the Falcons will administer a whipping of the Rockets.
"As I've always said about this rivalry, Tricia and her crew could be 20-0 and we could be 0-20 — or we could be 20-0 and they could be 0-20 — and this game still will come down to the wire,” she said. “They know us so well, and we know them so well. We [both] know [the other team's] tendencies.”
Last season’s meeting was a slugfest, with BG shooting 22 percent and the Rockets 33 percent in Toledo’s 48-38 decision at the Stroh Center. Toledo went on to win 29 games and capture a regular-season MAC crown behind the strength of seniors who graduated with more wins than any class in program history. The likes of Naama Shafir, Yolanda Richardson, and Lecretia Smith are gone, leaving behind a squad mixed with veterans and newcomers that can’t establish momentum in MAC play, never winning more than two in a row.
BG, on the other hand, is an overtime road loss from being unbeaten in the MAC. The Falcons blew an 11-point lead with three minutes to go in regulation, falling 82-79 at Central Michigan on Jan. 18. The loss was the lone exception to a league slate in which BG has felled all other comers by double digits.
Five Falcons average at least eight points, led by senior forward Alexis Rogers (13.9 points, 8.3 rebounds). Senior guard Jillian Halfhill and North Carolina State import Erica Donovan contribute 12.4 and 10.8 points, respectively.
“They have a lot of scorers, they move the ball well, they’re patient, they don’t beat themselves, and they play great defense,” Cullop said.
Unless Cullop changed her mind, expect her to roll out a new starting lineup to seek a faster start after watching her team fall into halftime holes of 22 and 17 points last week. Toledo fought back one week ago to win at Ohio but could not conjure the same magic four days later against Akron, falling behind by 29 points in the second half.
“Two games in a row we played two first halves I hoped we’d never see again,” Cullop said.
Freshman forward Janice Monakana, who scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds on Thursday, could bump someone from the starting lineup.
Not going anywhere is forward Inma Zanoguera, who has scored in double figures in nine of the last 10 games. Zanoguera’s 14.9 points are the most of anyone in today’s game. Zanoguera scored six points against BG last year and 10 the previous season.
“Sunday can be our redemption game,” she said. “And I hope it is.”