Toledo Women Reach A Final Four Of Their Own

Toledo's run through the WNIT has come at the coast of some pretty big names.

With a come-from-behind victory at home against the Syracuse Orange, the Toledo Rockets outlasted their quarterfinal opponents 71-68 in overtime to advance to the Final Four.

It may not be as glamorous as VCU's or Butler's trip to the FInal Four, which is the actual no-foolin' men's basketball tournament, or Gonzaga women's push as an 11-seed to the Elite Eight, although much can be gleaned from the latter. Gonzaga lucked out by playing in Spokane for the first four rounds. And Toledo has hosted four games in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, won them all, and won the silent auction for a fifth. On Wednesday they get the Charlotte 49ers at 8 p.m. in Savage Arena.

A few things about this quarterfinal game:

  1. Announced attendance: 5,001. Or, 17 times as many people that Syracuse had for their WNIT game against Eastern Michigan.
  2. As previously mentioned, the deficit was staggering at halftime. SU had a 38-26 advantage going into the locker room. There were all sorts of offensive problems for UT in the first half. After jumping to a quick 4-0 lead, they were held to two points and no field goals for almost eight minutes after that — a span in which the Orange had 11 points.
  3. And this probably helped with the comeback: Syracuse was 4-for-13 from the line in the second half. Toledo kept picking at the lead with a balanced attack. Everybody contributed. In fact, the Lady Rockets had a two-point lead in the final minute that they couldn't hold.
  4. Point guard Naama Shafir led the team with both 22 points and nine rebounds. She also brought home four assists, and the team had 19 of those total. Yolanda Richardson did the dirty work inside for 13 points.

For mid-major lovers, the WNIT Final Four is pretty neat: Toledo-Charlotte and USC-Illinois State. And that game is at ISU. Hooray, tournament also-rans!

While the tournament wasn't always 64 teams, Toledo has gotten further in the tournament in their history. They were the WNIT runners-up in 1990 when they lost to Kentucky, and they finished in third place the year before that. They were also "fifth place" in 1994, and don't ask me how that's accomplished.

So call it what you will. Toledo did not make the NCAA tournament by virtue of getting kicked out in the MAC Tournament semifinals. But they cannot control what people in committees think of them. They can only play the games in front of them, and fortunately they are playing games in front of large home crowds.

I mentioned this earlier Sunday, but these crowds really tell you something about Toledo. They love a winner and they shun a loser. They may technically be second in the MAC in men's basketball attendance, but anybody who goes to those games know that they aren't second in bodies-through-the-turnstile. They might've averaged two grand a game the last two years, and that's being generous. For this game, one and five thousand souls saw a magnificent game. Capacity for Savage Arena is 7,300. You just watch that attendance figure creep up toward it against Charlotte.

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