The 2012-13 Toledo women's basketball schedule was released on Wednesday, highlighted by a pair of tournaments inside the friendly confines of Savage Arena. The Rockets are slated to host the Glass City Tournament and the Toledo Invite during the month of December.
"Winning can be a double-edged sword in terms of scheduling," said Head Coach Tricia Cullop, whose team is 57-8 at home in her four years with the Rockets. "Because we have enjoyed recent success and have ranked nationally in home attendance, attracting home games is not an easy task. One of my assistants started working on the idea of a tournament last year, and it was so well received we decided to host two of them. We're thrilled that three of the teams who decided to make the trip to Toledo enjoyed postseason runs last year in either the WNIT and NCAA Tournament."
The three-time reigning Mid-American Conference West Division champions will compete against 2012 NCAA Tournament participant St. Bonaventure, Southern and SIU Edwardsville in the Glass City Tourney on Dec. 1-2. The Bonnies are coming off a sensational 31-4 record a season ago, advancing to the ‘Sweet 16' in the NCAA Tournament. The Jaguars sported a 13-12 ledger in 2011-12, while the Cougars finished with an 18-12 mark and qualified for the Women's Basketball Invitational, the University's first NCAA Division I national postseason event.
A little over three weeks later, the Midnight Blue & Gold will entertain Evansville, Prairie View A&M and Hampton in the Toledo Invite on Dec. 20-21. The Purple Aces, the school Cullop coached at for eight seasons prior to coming to Toledo, is coming off a 5-25 campaign in 2011-12. The Panthers made their fourth straight trip to the "Big Dance" a season ago with a 17-16 record, while the Pirates also advanced to the NCAA Tourney with an impressive 26-5 record.
Toledo returns 11 letterwinners in 2012-13, including four starters, from last year's squad that finished with a 24-10 overall record. The Rockets made their third consecutive appearance and eighth overall in the WNIT in 2012. UT advanced to the ‘Elite Eight' of the postseason tourney with home victories against Horizon League member Detroit, Big East foe Cincinnati and Colonial Athletic Association member VCU. Their season came to an end with an overtime setback to Big East foe Syracuse.
Leading the way for two-time MAC Coach of the Year Cullop this season will be three-time All-MAC honoree senior Naama Shafir (9.3 ppg, 3.5 apg, 2.3 spg), 2011-12 second-team All-MAC selection senior Yolanda Richardson (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg), senior Lecretia Smith (5.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and two-time all-league performer senior Kyle Baumgartner (5.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), along with 2011-12 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and second-team All-MAC recipient junior Andola Dortch (13.6 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.0 rpg). In total, the Rockets welcome back 69.8 percent of their scoring, 75.5 percent of their rebounding, 71.1 percent of their assists, 87.6 percent of their blocked shots and 69.8 percent of their steals in 2012-13.
"We have enjoyed great success in the WNIT the past three seasons, but we have fallen short of our goal to make the NCAA Tournament," Cullop said. "Obviously, the easiest way to earn a ticket to the "Big Dance" is to win the MAC tourney. We decided to give our players four tournament experiences this season to better prepare them for our ultimate goal. Getting comfortable playing back-to-back days and quickly adjusting to different styles of play will be great lessons."
After hosting an exhibition game in early November, the Rockets' season will officially tip off on Nov. 9 when they entertain Arkansas State (12-18). UT dropped a 64-56 decision to the Red Wolves in Jonesboro, AR last season.
Following the season opener, Toledo will hit the road for its next four contests, beginning with a matchup against 2012 NCAA Tournament participant Dayton (23-7) on Nov. 14. UT claimed a hard-fought 61-51 season-opening home victory over the Flyers a season ago.
"In the past few years our game against Dayton has served as a great gauge," Cullop said. "They have enjoyed trips to the NCAA Tournament recently, a goal we have been working toward. If we would like to make an argument for an at-large bid, we have to be able to compete with teams like Dayton. Two of our last three games against them have been extremely close and we were fortunate to win both of those, but we know that Dayton has done a great job recruiting and will be a tough test."
The 2011 WNIT ‘Sweet 16' participants will follow up the UD matchup with a contest at Colorado State (13-17) on Nov. 20, before venturing to "The Silver State" to take part in the John Ascuaga's Nugget Classic on Nov. 23-24. The other teams slated to participate in the two-day tourney include Santa Clara (12-18), Cleveland State (12-19) and host Nevada (7-23). UT has not competed in the state of Nevada since it took part in a tournament at UNLV during the 1995-96 campaign.
UT then returns home for the Glass City Tournament as well as a contest with Milwaukee (9-21) on Dec. 8. The 2012 WNIT ‘Elite Eight' participants dropped a tough 60-57 decision to the Panthers a season ago.
The Rockets will then venture back to the road for a matchup at Big East member Marquette (14-17) on Dec. 15, before wrapping up their non-conference slate with a trip to Atlanta to take part in the Georgia State Tournament on Dec. 29-30. The other teams slated to play in the tourney are Charlotte (16-14, WNIT), Mississippi Valley State (18-14, WNIT) and the host Panthers (8-22). Two years ago, UT defeated the 49ers in the semifinals of the 2011 WNIT before a then-record 7,020 fans in Savage Arena. Sandwiched in between those two contests, Toledo will host the Toledo Invite.
"Seven of our 13 non-conference games are against teams who made trips to post-season play last year," said Cullop, whose squad welcomes five newcomers in 2012-13. "Our goal each season is to prepare our players for MAC play. This schedule will be demanding, but one that should prove to be right on track with helping us achieve our goals."
Cullop and the Rockets will begin defense of their division title on Jan. 10 when they host WNIT participant Central Michigan (20-16). UT will then play four of its next five contests away from home, but will finish with four of its final six conference contests in Savage Arena, including its regular-season finale against Ball State (9-21) (March 6). Toledo will play two games against each of the five other West Division schools throughout the regular season. They will also face each of the six East Division teams once, with Buffalo (9-22), Kent State (6-21) and Ohio (14-18) visiting the "Glass City," and the Rockets traveling to MAC regular-season champion Bowling Green (24-7), Akron (14-18) and WNIT participant Miami (21-10).
The MAC Tournament will begin with first-round games at campus sites on March 9 with the second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game on March 13-16 at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.