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Defense lacking as RedHawk women lose to Akron

The offensive output by Miami University’s women’s basketball team was impressive. The defense? Not so much.

Trying to gain sole possession of first place in the Mid-American Conference East Division, the RedHawks instead fell to third Saturday afternoon with an 84-77 loss to visiting Akron at Millett Hall.

It was MU’s second home defeat this week to a conference title contender. On Wednesday, Miami got thrashed by Toledo 80-49.

“A disappointing loss, but I feel better about how we responded from our Toledo loss,” RedHawks coach Maria Fantanarosa said. “I think the offense got a lot of different contributions from our starters. I think the defensive side was horrible for the second game in a row.

“We call them easy points — transition points, free throws and rebound putbacks. We allowed them to have a lot of easy points, so for how excited I am that the offense took steps forward, I’m disappointed that the defense didn’t.”

Erica Almady tallied a career-high 20 points for MU, and Courtney Osborn (18), Kirsten Olowinski (14) and Haley Robertson (13) were also in double figures.

For the RedHawks, who dropped to 14-9 overall and 6-4 in the MAC, it was the second-highest point total of the season. They scored 78 against Ohio on Jan. 17.

Fantanarosa said a big part of the defensive woes was the fact that her primary players were worn out. The bench hasn’t been very productive of late and totaled four points Saturday.

“I think we got outworked as well, but yes, we were tired,” Fantanarosa said. “We’re used to playing eight, nine players, but I can’t go eight, nine deep if our bench doesn’t give us more contributions. If our bench starts to contribute more, it will give us sharper minutes from our starters.”

The Zips outscored Miami 16-8 over the final 4:21 and pushed their record to 16-7, 7-3. Akron is alone on top of the East, followed by Bowling Green (6-3), MU and Buffalo (5-4). BG visits Western Michigan and Buffalo travels to Central Michigan on Sunday.

Rachel Tecca punished the RedHawks with 29 points and 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-1 redshirt junior forward was 11 of 18 from the floor and 7 of 8 at the line.

“It was definitely a statement for us because we’re now in first in the MAC East,” Tecca said. “For me, I’ve always played awful here, so it was definitely great for me to come out and have a good performance. I just worked really hard on the boards, and my teammates looked for me on a bunch of slips and post-ups. I commend them for getting me the ball.”

Hanna Luburgh also fired in 21 points for the Zips, who shot 46.7 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from beyond the arc and 91.3 percent from the foul line. Sina King and Taylor Ruper added 17 and 13 points, respectively, and Kacie Cassell dished out 10 assists.

“When we needed stops, we got stops,” Akron coach Jodi Kest said. “I’m really, really proud of these young ladies. That was just a big win for our program. It’s a tough place to play.

“We have a lot of respect for Miami and those two seniors, but we have four players that can score, and we’ve got a point guard that distributes the ball. I’m just so happy for these kids.”

Almady had a big day for MU, sinking 7 of 11 field goals and 6 of 7 free throws. She also grabbed five boards and said she’s making a conscious effort to attack the basket more.

“All the coaches have been telling me to score when I get it inside instead of kicking it out every time like I usually do,” Almady said. “Today I felt that I was getting good enough passes inside, and my confidence was there just to score.”

Hannah Robertson had eight points, four steals, three assists and three rebounds for the RedHawks. Olowinski snagged eight boards, and Haley Robertson chipped in seven.

Turnovers continue to be a problem for MU. It had 20 on this day, six more than Akron.

“After the game, right away we talked about defense,” Almady said. “We say we need to play defense, we say we need to box out, but right now we all want to come together and actually do it in practice every day. This bye week is a good opportunity for everybody to step up in practice and get everybody else better with our defense and rebounding.”

Miami is off until next Saturday, when its hosts Central Michigan at 1 p.m. The Zips will be at home against Ball State that day at 5 p.m.

Fantanarosa said sophomore guard Courtney Larson, who’s been sidelined with a knee injury, is expected to return to action against CMU. That could also be a milestone day for Osborn — the senior guard has 1,957 career points and is just 22 away from MU’s all-time scoring leader, Amanda Jackson.

“I think it is going to be a fun week,” Fantanarosa said. “I really do believe in this team, and I think they’re going to respond. I think we got tired. I think we’re ready for the bye week. It didn’t go our way this week, but at the same time, they know why and they know how they can fix it. So for me as a coach, it’s going to be a fun week because they’re eager to learn.”

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