All of the Toledo Rockets' opponents in this year's WNIT were schools Tricia Cullop and her staff tried and failed to schedule home-and-away games with before the season started. Butler and Youngstown State proved to be no match for Toledo but Illinois was too tall and too athletic for the Rockets as they lost by eight points tonight, 63 to 55, at Savage Arena.
Naama Shafir, Toledo's much loved star player, played her last game as a Rocket tonight and had a performance she will soon hope to forget: 4 for 21 from the field with eight turnovers. She finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists but her poor shooting and ill-timed passes offset anything positive she managed to contribute.
The entire Rocket squad struggled with their shots. It's been the elephant in the room all season and it finally caught up with them. Toledo finished 35.3% from the floor and continued to suffer from the three point line at 21.1% (4 for 19). They did managed to shoot 75% from the free throw line but that came on just 3 of 4 shooting (all in the first half).
Speaking of fouls... the Rockets found themselves in the bonus very early on in the opening minutes and proceeded to draw only one foul the rest of the first half. Toledo had a hard time finding open lanes early on against Illinois' 2-3 zone defense that features a lot of ball pressure and traps. When Toledo did manage to get good looks at the rim they failed to convert easy layups.
Illinois' Karisma Penn showed why she is one of the premier post players in the Big Ten with 23 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes of play. She played hard down low for the Illini while managing to stay out of foul trouble. The only other offensive bright spot for Illinois was Amber Moore with 18 points in 39 minutes. No other player for the Illini managed double figures.
Even with Naama's difficult time handling the ball and Toledo's poor shooting they still found themselves with a four point lead with 8:08 to go. And then the wheels came off with poor possessions that featured bad looks, bad passes and bad turnovers. By the end of the game, Illinois had forced 23 turnovers and scored 20 points off of them.
And so this Toledo Rockets season ends with a tie of the school's record of 29 wins, matching the final total of the 2011 WNIT Championship squad, but they finish the year without an NCAA Tournament bid or even matching last season's Elite Eight WNIT appearance. It was a tough way to end the careers of five seniors: Shafir, Yolanda Richardson, Lecretia Smith, Riley McCormick and Kyle Baumgartner.
Next season will be an interesting one with such an extreme roster turnover and a group of mostly unproven underclassmen left in charge.