Rockets Shoot Past Wildcats, 64-63

Nov. 14, 2008

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HILO, Haw. - Toledo point guard Naama Shafir hit two free throws with four seconds remaining to lift the Rockets to a 64-63 win over the University of Arizona, Friday afternoon in the opening game of the Bank of Hawaii Classic.

The Wildcats came out sharp on both ends of the floor, getting to the basket in the early moments while holding the Rockets to a put-back basket over the first four minutes. Senior forward Amina Njonkou and sophomore forward Ify Ibekwe each had four points before the first timeout to help the Wildcats jump to a 10-2 advantage.

The Rockets responded from beyond the arc, getting back-to-back three-pointers by Shafir and Courtney Ingersoll to knock the lead down to four points at 12-8. As the teams continued with their diverging strategies, the Wildcats took the upper hand as they hit 12-of-27 from the field (.444) while the Rockets made just 3-of-14 (.214) from beyond the arc to build a 32-24 halftime lead.

The injury bug that has three Wildcats unable to play took its toll in the second half. With all three of their backcourt players going the distance in the first half, the Wildcats still looked fatigued as the second half started. The shots that fell early missed their mark early on while the Rockets looked refreshed and energized as it used 10 players before the break.

Toledo capped a 11-4 run with a three-pointer by Larrita Gipson to knot the team with 14:39 to play. The Rockets kept on pushing after getting back to level terms and used a 10-0 run to build a 56-47 lead.

After Reiko Thomas hit a pair of free throws, Amber Heistan drilled a three-pointer before Tanika Mays scored five-straight points on a conventional three-point play and a jumper. Shafir capped the stretch with a driving lay-up while the Wildcats committed four turnovers, committed a pair of fouls and attempted just one shot.

A timeout by head coach Niya Butts seemed to calm her team down and they slowly chipped away at the deficit. The Cats scored the next six points to regain their composure and kept the game from getting out of control.

The Rockets twice built the lead back up to six points, but the Wildcats continued to battle back. Ibekwe hit two free throws with 2:23 to play, then swiped the ball from Shafir and went the distance for a lay-up to cut the gap to 61-59 with 2:06 remaining. Ibekwe then set up Njonkou for a lay-up with 1:18 remaining to complete the comeback.

Melissa Goodall missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the next possession, but the Wildcats were unable to convert on their offensive possession. Shafir was fouled on a drive, but made just one free throw to put the Rockets on top by one with 37 seconds to play. The Wildcats called a timeout of their own and set up for a final possession.

With Toledo dropping into a 1-1-3 zone the Cats worked the ball around the perimeter. Having made just 1-of-11 from distance during the game, the outside shot was a last resort. Ibekwe seized the opportunity, driving the left side of the lane before drawing a foul. She canned the first free throw to tie the game, then nailed the second after a Toledo timeout.

Shafir took the ball again, worked her way to the right wing, then slipped around a screen before drawing a foul. The third time was the charm for her as she hit both free throws with four seconds left to give the Rockets the lead once more. Reiko Thomas made her way down court with time ticking away, but her three-point attempt was off the mark.

Ibekwe led all scorers with 23 points and pulled down a career-best 18 rebounds, a total that matched the third-best total in program history. Njonkou finished with 17 points and 7 rebounds while Thomas had 8 points and 6 rebounds.

Shafir led the way for Toledo (1-0) with 19 points and five assists while Lisa Johnson had 12 points before fouling out.

Arizona (1-0) returns to the floor on Saturday, November 15 for the second of its three tournament games against Loyola Marymount at 12:00 p.m. (HST)

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