The Toledo women's basketball program revealed its 2013-14 schedule on Tuesday and home contests against perennial powers Purdue and Dayton highlight a rigorous non-conference slate. The four-time reigning Mid-American Conference West Division champion Rockets entertain the Big Ten member Boilermakers (25-9, 10-6 Big Ten) on Sunday, Nov. 17 and Atlantic 10 participant Flyers (28-3, 14-0 A-10) on Sunday, Dec. 22. UT was 15-2 at home a season ago and holds an impressive 72-10 (.878) inside the friendly confines of Savage Arena under sixth-year head coach Tricia Cullop.
"It was tough saying goodbye to the most successful class in Toledo women's basketball history last year, but we're excited to start the 2013-14 season," said Cullop, who ranks first in MAC history in conference win percentage (.813, 65-15) and second in overall win percentage (.740, 125-44). "Including conference play, we will face 11 teams (four in NCAA Tournament, six in WNIT, one in WBI) that advanced to postseason competition last season, including the WNIT and WBI champions. Eight of our opponents also had a top 100 RPI or better and finished with at least 20 wins. It'll be a challenging schedule, but one we will embrace."
Added Cullop, "We're thrilled to host two teams who not only made the NCAA Tournament, but also advanced to the second round. Both games will be great measuring sticks for us. I hope our fans circle both those dates as "must-see" games."
Besides hosting NCAA Tournament contenders PU and UD, Toledo will put on the second-annual Glass City Tournament and Toledo Invite. A year ago, the Rockets captured both tourney crowns, outscoring their four opponents by an average of 18.7 ppg (63.5-44.8).
After holding an exhibition game in early November, UT's season officially tips off on Saturday, Nov. 9 against 2013 WNIT champion Drexel (28-10, 13-5 CAA) in the opening round of the Glass City Tournament. The Rockets and the Dragons will meet for the first time on the hardwood. Toledo will then face either Mississippi Valley State (17-15, 12-6 SWAC) or NCAA Tournament participant Villanova (21-11, 9-7 Big East) in the second round on Sunday, Nov. 10.
A little less than one month later, the Midnight Blue & Gold will host 2013 WBI champion Detroit (21-13, 9-7 Horizon League) on Friday, Dec. 6 in the first game of the Toledo Invite and Valparaiso (11-20, 5-11 Horizon League) in the second round on Saturday, Dec. 7. Chicago State (4-26, 2-6 Great West) is the other team set to participate in the two-day invite.
Two years ago, UT secured a 59-49 triumph against the Titans in the first round of the WNIT at home. Toledo and the Crusaders will square off for the first time on the court.
"We're excited that both Drexel and Villanova will be coming for the Glass City Tournament," said Cullop, whose team won a school-record four tournaments a season ago. "Drexel won the 2013 WNIT and Villanova was a 2013 NCAA Tournament participant. Both are well-coached teams and won a combined 49 games last season and both had RPI's of 55 or above."
The Toledo Invite will be played in a "Classic" format this year since both Horizon members Valparaiso and Detroit will be here. Detroit won the post-season WBI tournament and finished the season with a Top 100 RPI (97).
Following the Glass City Tournament and the Purdue contest, Toledo will hit the road for three games, playing at Missouri-Kansas City (9-21, 5-11 Summit League) on Wednesday, Nov. 20 and taking part in Saint Mary's Hilton Concord Thanksgiving Classic in Moraga, CA on Friday-Saturday, Nov. 29-30. UT will play Cal State Fullerton (11-22, 5-13 Big West) and WNIT participant and the host Gaels (23-11, 11-5 WCC) in the classic. Southeastern Conference member Alabama (13-18, 2-14 SEC) is the other squad to play in the classic.
The Rockets will do battle against the Kangaroos and Titans for the first time, while they will square off versus SMC for a second time in school history. UT suffered a 95-73 loss to Saint Mary's (CA) in Moraga, CA during its 2006-07 campaign.
"Saint Mary's (CA) is led by a Maryland transfer, Jackie Nared, who averaged 16.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game," Cullop said. "They're a strong team who had a legitimate shot for an NCAA at-large berth last season with an RPI of 44. SEC member Alabama with newly appointed coach Kristi Curry will also be there as well as Cal State Fullerton. CSU Fullerton will have a familiar face on their sideline to our Rocket faithful as Bill Fennelly's son Steven is a newly appointed assistant coach. It'll be a fun trip as many of our players haven't ever traveled to the state of California let alone the great city of San Francisco."
After putting on the Toledo Invite, Toledo will venture back to the road for its final non-conference tuneups against St. Bonaventure (10-19, 3-11 Atlantic 10) on Sunday, Dec. 15 and Evansville (9-21, 7-11 MVC) on Sunday, Dec. 29. Sandwiched in between those two games is a home contest against the Flyers.
A season ago, UT defeated the Bonnies, 59-45, in the championship game of the Glass City Tournament and the Purple Aces, 60-50, in the opening contest of the Toledo Invite. The Rockets also suffered a hard-fought 79-76 setback to the Flyers on the road.
Cullop and the Rockets will then turn their focus to the MAC slate, where they will engage in 18 games for the first time since 1997-98. UT will begin defense of its regular-season title on Saturday, Jan. 4 at MAC Tournament champion Central Michigan (21-12, 12-4 MAC).
"It will be interesting to see if playing 18 conference games helps our conference RPI or hurts it," Cullop said. "I'm going to keep an open mind about this change. I'm willing to do whatever is in the best interest of our league as a whole."
Toledo will play two games against each of the five other MAC West Division schools as well as WNIT participant Miami (19-13, 10-6 MAC) and Ohio (6-23, 1-15 MAC) from the East Division throughout the regular season. UT will also face the remaining East Division teams once, with WNIT participants Akron (23-10, 12-4 MAC) and Bowling Green (24-11, 11-5 MAC) visiting the "Glass City," and the Rockets traveling to Buffalo (12-20, 8-8 MAC) and Kent State (3-27, 1-15 MAC).
"In the West Division, CMU will most likely be the favorite as they return one of the toughest players in our league to defend, Crystal Bradford," Cullop said. "Coach Sallee at BSU did a great job with a short bench last year. They didn't graduate much and will add a lot of depth with their 2013 recruiting class. WMU and EMU could make great strides with the addition of their 2013 recruiting classes as both have coaches entering their second year at the helm."
Cullop added, "In the East Division, Akron returns almost all of its starters from a year ago, including MAC Player of the Year Rachel Tecca. BG returns one of the top post players in the league, Alexis Rogers, and will also have a healthy Jasmine Matthews back who started before being sidelined with injuries. In addition, they add a quality transfer from North Carolina State, Erica Donovan, who sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules. Buffalo made great strides last year and has enough talent to make a run."
The MAC Tournament will begin with first-round games at campus sites on Monday, March 10 with the second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game on Wednesday-Saturday, March 12-15 at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.
Toledo's roster in 2013-14 will feature seven returning letterwinners, including two all-conference performers, and six newcomers. Leading the way for three-time MAC Coach of the Year Cullop this season will be two-time reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year and 2012-13 first-team All-MAC honoree senior Andola Dortch (10.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.7 spg) and 2012-13 third-team All-MAC selection junior Inma Zanoguera (10.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 spg). As far as numbers on the hardwood go, the Rockets welcome back 47.3 percent of their scoring, 44.1 percent of their rebounding, 49.3 percent of their assists and 59.3 percent of their steals in 2013-14.
"Our place in the conference race depends greatly on the development of our underclassmen and incoming players," Cullop said. "I do like the fact we return Andola (Dortch) and Inma (Zanoguera). Andola has been a two-time Defensive POY in our league and sets the tone for our team on that end of the floor. She and Inma will be relied greatly upon for leadership. They have a lot of experience playing in our league and know the work ethic necessary for a MAC Championship."
UT compiled a stellar 29-4 record in 2012-13, the best single-season mark in school annals. The Rockets also captured their second MAC regular-season crown in the last three seasons with a 15-1 league ledger. Toledo is one of just 13 programs in the country to win at least 24 games each of the last four seasons.
UT also made its fourth consecutive appearance and ninth overall in the WNIT in 2013. The Midnight Blue & Gold advanced to the ‘Sweet 16' of the postseason tourney for a third-straight year.