Rockets fight back for big win to advance to WNIT Final Four

March 27, 2011 | News, UToday
By Brian DeBenedictis

Naama Shafir scored 22 points in the WNIT quarterfinal fame in Savage Arena.

Naama Shafir scored 22 points in the WNIT quarterfinal fame in Savage Arena.

Toledo overcame a 12-point halftime deficit and pulled off a thrilling 71-68 overtime victory against Syracuse Sunday in the Elite Eight of the WNIT.

Today’s fourth-round postseason contest was played before a season-high 5,001 fans in Savage Arena, the 10th-largest crowd in school history. With the extra-period triumph, the Rockets improve to 27-8 overall, equaling the single-season UT record for wins.

The 2010-11 Mid-American Conference regular-season champions will host Atlantic 10 member Charlotte in the WNIT Final Four Wednesday, March 30, at 8 p.m.

Tickets will be $15 for adults, $8 for children 12 and younger and $7.50 for full-time University of Toledo faculty and staff. UT also will give away 100 free tickets, courtesy of Head Coach Tricia Cullop. All UT students will be admitted free to the game with their student ID, courtesy of the Office of the President. All tickets for the Final Four are general admission, and the UT Ticket Office will be open Monday at 10 a.m.

Junior Naama Shafir paced the Rockets in today’s come-from-behind win with 22 points, a career-high nine rebounds and four assists in a collegiate-best 42 minutes. The 2010-11 first-team All-MAC performer shot 6 of 14 from the field and 7-9 from the charity stripe to tally at least 20 points for a squad-best eighth time this season.

Joining Shafir in double figures was sophomore Yolanda Richardson with 13 points and four caroms. Richardson has tallied at least 10 points in three of the four tourney games and is contributing 13.0 points, a team-high 6.3 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per contest in the postseason.

Toledo also benefitted from quality performances from junior Haylie Linn (9 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), redshirt freshman Andola Dortch (9 points), senior Jessica Williams (8 points.) and senior Melissa Goodall (7 points) to extend its home win streak to 16-consecutive games.

The Rockets shot 37.7 percent (23 of 61) from the floor, including 36.0 percent (9 of 25) from beyond the arc and 76.2 percent (16 of 21) from the free-throw line to become the first MAC school to earn a WNIT semifinal game. Toledo also finished with 19 assists, compared to only 11 turnovers, marking the third time in the tourney that it had more helpers than miscues.

Erica Morrow led the Orange (25-10) with a game-high 23 points, and first-team All-Big East performer Kayla Alexander had 17 points with eight boards.

UT’s Shafir split a pair of free throws for the first points in the overtime session, before Syracuse responded with two charity tosses from Iasia Hemingway to make the score 64-63 at 3:59.

Toledo’s Dortch buried a triple on its next possession, but the Orange’s Alexander countered with back-to-back layups to give the visitors a 68-66 cushion with 2:13 left.

With each possession at a premium, Dortch made one of two free throws, and Richardson followed with a layup to lift the home team to an advantage they would not relinquish, 69-68, with 1:06 showing on the clock.

Each squad was guilty of a turnover on their next possession to give the ball back to Syracuse with only with 32 seconds remaining.

The visitors misfired on their ensuing field-goal attempt but came down with the offensive rebound to keep the possession alive. SU’s Hemingway then tried to take the ball hard to the basket but was called for a charge to turn the ball over to the Rockets with only eight seconds left.

SU immediately fouled Shafir, and she sank both free throws to make it a three-point difference, 71-68, with seven seconds remaining.

The Orange had one final attempt to force another extra period, but Rachel Coffey’s three-point try with a little over one second left was off target, prompting the UT fans to storm the court.

UT looked sharp at the outset and received back-to-back layups from Goodall and Shafir, forcing Syracuse into an early timeout at 17:53.

The Orange settled down following the stoppage of play and reeled off 14 consecutive points to take a 14-4 edge with 12:41 remaining in the opening period. Alexander scored the opening eight points in the run, while the visitors also benefitted from treys by Elashier Hall and Morrow to build a double-digit cushion.

Shafir stopped the run with two charity tosses at the 11:46 mark. The Rockets went six-plus minutes without a point to put themselves in a sizable hole.

Syracuse continued to play with a two-possession lead as the first half wore on and took advantage of points from Shakeya Leary, Morrow and Hemingway to make the score 23-12 at 8:08.

Toledo needed a spark to close the gap and utilized an 8-2 burst to pull within 25-20 with 4:01 left, prompting the Orange into another timeout. Linn knocked down a pair of free throws to start the run, followed by field goals from Richardson, Dortch and Shafir to bring the fans to their feet.

Unfortunately for the Rockets, the visitors quickly countered with a 13-6 run to end the stanza and take a 38-26 lead into the intermission. SU’s Morrow did a bulk of the damage in the waning moments, scoring 11 points to help the Big East member build a 12-point cushion at the break.

UT opened the second stanza with a flurry, receiving triples from Williams and Linn to trim the deficit to 43-38 with 16:51 left in regulation. The home team also benefitted from points by Richardson and Dortch to shrink the margin to five points before the first media timeout.

Syracuse did not get flustered by the early Toledo run and responded with baskets from Carmen Tyson-Thomas, Alexander and Morrow to once again assume a double-digit lead, 50-39, at 14:25.

Toledo tried to push the tempo as the second half reached the midway point to further cut into the margin and took advantage of a three-point play from Goodall to make the difference 52-47 with 9:45 left.

The Rockets kept attacking and went on an 8-0 burst over the ensuing two minutes to complete the comeback, drawing the teams even at 55-55 at 6:20. UT received back-to-back three-point field goals from Shafir and Williams, as well as a layup from Goodall, prompting Syracuse into a timeout.

Syracuse responded once again following the stoppage of play, regaining the lead on an offensive putback by Tyson-Thomas and one of two charity tosses from Hall, 58-55, with 5:24 remaining.

UT was resilient, though, and knotted the score on a three-pointer by Shafir before taking its first lead since the opening minutes on one of two free throws by Dortch, 59-58, at 3:34.

Syracuse’s Alexander also split a pair of free throws to bring the teams even once again, before the visitors retook the lead on one of two charity tosses by Hall, 60-59, at 2:09.

Like a championship heavyweight fight, Toledo countered with a three-point play by Richardson, only to be shown up on a jumper by Hall to balance the score for a fifth time at 62-62 with 45 seconds left.

Each team had one final chance to win in regulation, but UT’s Dortch and SU’s Tyson-Thomas both came up short on their attempts to force the extra period.

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