With the win, the Rockets improve to 24-8 on the season.
The 2010-11 Mid-American Conference regular-season champions will host the winner of the Tennessee Tech-Auburn contest in a second-round matchup Saturday, March 19, at noon.
Sophomore Yolanda Richardson paced the Rockets with 14 points and nine boards off the bench. The second-year letterwinner has scored in double figures in three of the last six games.
Joining Richardson in double digits was redshirt freshman Andola Dortch with 13 points, four assists and two thefts.
UT also received outstanding efforts from senior Jessica Williams (9 points), junior Naama Shafir (8 points, 4 assists) and senior Melissa Goodall (7 points) to advance to the second round of the postseason tourney for the second-consecutive season.
Toledo shot 36.4 percent (20 of 55) from the field, including 33.3 percent (9 of 27) from beyond the arc, and 56.3 percent (9 of 16) from the charity stripe to run its all-time record in the WNIT to 9-6. They also finished with 16 assists, compared to 14 turnovers, and held an 18-6 edge in bench scoring.
Facing a 51-43 deficit and only 3:15 remaining in regulation, Toledo needed to play near perfect basketball down the stretch and started the game-changing burst with a pair of free throws by Shafir.
After the Blue Hens misfired on a jumper, Williams buried the second of her three triples to make it a one-possession difference, 51-48, at the 2:35 mark.
Delaware came up empty on its next possession, while Toledo’s Shafir split a pair of charity tosses with just a little over two minutes remaining in regulation.
The visitors silenced the crowd for a moment with two free throws by All-America candidate Elena Delle Donne, before the Rockets knocked down back-to-back treys from Dortch and Williams to reclaim the lead for good, 55-53, at 0:53.
The Blue Hens were unable to score on their next possession and were forced to foul Toledo’s Dortch with only 18 ticks remaining. Toledo’s best free-throw shooter stepped to the line and drained both attempts to establish a four-point cushion, 57-53.
After Delaware’s Jocelyn Bailey hit two free throws with 10 seconds left, UT’s Dortch split a pair at the stripe to keep it a one-possession difference, 58-55, with eight ticks showing on the clock.
The visitors had one final chance to force overtime, but Delle Donne’s 25-foot three-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark, sending the UT bench and its fans into a frenzy.
UD looked strong at the outset and tallied the game’s first six points, before UT registered its opening basket on a jumper by Goodall at the 17:10 mark.
The field goal by Goodall ignited the Rockets’ offense and started a 9-2 run to give the home team its first lead, 9-8, with 14:07 left. UT received baskets from four different players in the burst to get the home crowd into the contest.
The postseason game remained close for the ensuing 12-plus minutes with neither team holding more than a three-point edge, before UT ended the period with an 8-0 run to take a 29-23 advantage into the intermission. Shafir made one of two free throws to start the run, followed by a triple from junior Courtney Ingersoll and back-to-back layups from Richardson and Goodall to give Toledo a six-point bulge at the break.
UT continued to build its cushion at the start of the second stanza, utilizing a trey from Dortch and a layup by junior Haylie Linn to make the difference 32-27 with 18:45 remaining in regulation.
The lead quickly evaporated though with the aid of an 18-3 run by the Blue Hens to reclaim the advantage, 47-40, at 6:28. Delle Donne scored 14 points in the offensive explosion, while Danielle Parker contributed the other four tallies to establish a seven-point cushion. Moments later, the Rockets took advantage of a layup from Richardson and one of two charity tosses from Dortch to make it a four-point contest, 47-43, but Delaware countered with two points each from Jaquetta May and Delle Donne to make the score 51-43 and set the stage for a dramatic UT finish.
Delle Donne led all scorers with 31 points and three blocks, the second-highest total by a Toledo opponent this season. Missouri State’s Casey Garrison poured in 32 points on Nov. 20. The Blue Hens wrap up their season with a 20-14 record.