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Rockets smashed by Akron

03/14/2014, 12:00am EDT
By RYAN AUTULLO BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo unable to overcome 20-point halftime deficit


Toledo's Olivia Braun blocks a shot by Akron's Kacie Cassell in the second half on Thursday. UT likely ended its season at 16-16.

CLEVELAND — By rule there had to be a second half the two times the University of Toledo played Akron this season in women’s basketball.

Whether the final 20 minutes amounted to anything more than time filler is subject for debate.

The Zips went into the break up 22 points in late January and seized a 20-point advantage in a Mid-American Conference quarterfinal at Quicken Loans Arena on Thursday.

The final result was an 83-69 bloodletting that all but ended Toledo’s season with as many wins as losses.

The Rockets (16-16) will not play in a MAC semifinal for the first time in coach Tricia Cullop’s six seasons and are resigned to not appearing in the postseason for the first time since her initial year.

“I think it’s tough with a .500 record,” Cullop conceded.

Akron’s breakneck tempo induced problems for Toledo, which was operating on tired legs playing a game for the fourth time in six days.

The Zips (21-9) posted an astounding 16 assists in the first period, dashing down the court and delivering crisp passes to the bewilderment of a Toledo defense that looked confused over who to guard.

“If you don’t communicate where that one player is [your teammates] can’t help you,” Inma Zanoguera said.

“That’s the reason why she went off right off the bat.”

Zanoguera was referencing Hanna Luburgh, a sweet-shooting All-MAC guard who exploded for 25 first half points.

A 9 of 14 shooting effort by Luburgh reduced the burden on the right knee of her ailing co-star, Rachel Tecca.

Tecca, the MAC player of the year last season, missed the final 37 minutes of Akron’s regular season finale against Bowling Green, giving hope to Toledo pulling an upset. She went through warm ups with a noticeable hitch in her step but still managed 11 points in 23 minutes.

Luburgh, who mirrors Tecca with 22 points per game, cooled in the second half, closing with 31 points and eight rebounds.

“Performance of a MVP-type player,” Cullop said. “She’s a kid if she wants to play pro has an opportunity.”

In a timeout to draw up the final play before half, Akron’s Jodi Kest didn’t need her grease board.

“What do you want to run?” she asked Luburgh.

Luburgh drained a 3-pointer that was reduced to two after a video review.

Anita Brown added 12 points and Kacie Cassell six assists in a first half Cullop described as “one of the finest shooting performances from a team I’ve seen.” The Zips shots 58 percent and led 57-37.

Akron (21-9) will play Central Michigan today in a rematch of last year’s conference championship game. The second-seeded Chippewas are without MAC player of the year Crystal Bradford, who injured her knee this week in practice.

Likely participating in their final game for UT were seniors Andola Dortch and Brianna Jones, who contributed 10 points a piece, and Janelle Reed-Lewis, who had eight.

The Spaniards, Zanoguera and Elena de Alfredo, scored 12 and 11 points, respectively.

Toledo trimmed the deficit to 14 at the 8:39 mark, and Akron opened the door for a Rocket comeback with five straight misses.

Toledo couldn’t take advantage, missing five shots, including a layup or two, before Jones scored two minutes later on a put back.

“When you’re down 20 trying to cut it, you’re expending so much energy on defense,” Cullop said. “Sometimes it’s hard to have legs on offense.”

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

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