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Rockets ready for rematch

03/08/2014, 12:42am EST
By RYAN AUTULLO BLADE SPORTS WRITER

UT says communication key against E. Michigan

Rockets ready for rematch with EMU

Kowalczyk

Failure to communicate contributed to the biggest failure of the University of Toledo’s otherwise exemplary basketball season last month when the Rockets, muzzled on defense, couldn’t talk their way through a 21-point loss at Eastern Michigan.

So in advance of today’s rematch, the Rockets are doing a lot of talking.

“C’mon, let’s get this right!” Justin Drummond implored his teammates after a failed defensive possession the other day at practice.

“Talk louder!” barked Julius Brown.

Communication is key for Toledo to finalize a record-breaking regular season in style. A win over EMU will deliver the Rockets their eighth MAC regular-season crown, a perfect home record for the first time in 47 seasons, a warm farewell on senior day, coach Tod Kowalczyk’s 200th career victory, and a win this season against every MAC team.

Talk about a big opportunity for the Rockets.

“For us, the catalyst to everything is talk,” Kowalczyk said. “When we talk, we’re active. When we talk, we’re focused. When we talk, we’re really good. It’s when we get quiet that we miscommunicate things and we don’t play smart.”

A 65-44 setback Feb. 15 in Ypsilanti marks Toledo’s low point, kickstarting a miniature 2-2 swoon. Although his team shot an uncharacteristic 26 percent from the field, Kowalczyk was equally displeased with a breezy defense that let a competitive game slip away in the closing minutes (UT trailed by just seven points with five minutes to go).

The matinee rematch will be Toledo’s final appearance before Friday’s semifinal round of the MAC tournament at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. Loads of data suggests the Rockets will not earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament — an RPI hovering around 40 and a shortage of marquee wins makes it hard to argue otherwise — so winning twice next week appears to be essential to Toledo (25-5, 13-4) dancing in March for the first time since 1980.

Toledo is locked into the second seed after Western Michigan beat Central Michigan on Friday to land the top spot. With a win today the Rockets will join WMU as MAC champs and West division winners.

The upcoming six-day layoff is welcomed by Toledo, whose marathon season has been dotted with more mile markers than most. The NCAA moved up the start of practice by two weeks, and that does not include the near two weeks Kowalczyk’s team spent in Greece over the summer for a basketball/​cultural tour.

Kowalczyk, whose focus every season is to ensure his team is fresh for the final stretch, will give his players Sunday off before a light practice Monday and another day off Tuesday.

“We look forward to rest,” Drummond said. “At the same time we want to stay sharp. Our coaches will do a great job keeping our bodies ready. We have to keep our minds ready.”

And their lips flapping.

NEXT YEAR: Already committed to play a road game with Michigan next December, Toledo could add another marquee non-conference opponent to its schedule. Kowalczyk confirmed he is in discussions with four-time national champion Duke for a game to be played in Durham, N.C.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.

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Tag(s): Toledo