Coming into today's game Niagara featured an uninspiring 2-6 record while UB has had several ups and downs to get to 5-4. Since a big road win over Pittsburgh, the Bulls have lost tight road games at Siena and in overtime down in Olean to the Bonnies. Today's match up in Lewiston was UB's final Big 4 game of the year, their last game of 2013, and their penultimate OOC game before going into MAC play.
Ultimately overcoming a slow start to the game and Val McQuade's explosion for Niagara, UB's starting five filled up the stat sheet for a 78-70 win against the Purple Eagles.
I got to the game just a tad late, but at the first media timeout an early 8-2 Niagara lead had been cut to 10-6. The Purple Eagles hit their first three shots - including two triples - and had three assists on their first four baskets, and benefited from four offensive rebounds in the early going while UB rushed their possessions and didn't work for quality shots.
In the early going Niagara guard Val McQuade had 7 points, and, trust me, she didn't slow down one bit.
For UB, the early star was Senior Guard Margeaux Gupilan, who hit two early threes to keep Niagara from running away. After her second three, which made it 12-11 Niagara, Gupilan got a steal - UB is top-20 in the country in steals and has three players in the top 10 of the MAC - but an offensive foul squandered UB's chance to get their first lead of the game.
The next ten minutes would feature much of the same, as UB and Niagara played pretty even, but Niagara's effort on the boards and ability to generate points off turnovers helped them maintain a slim lead.
Midway through the first half Meghan McGuinness and Chanel Johnson were joining McQuade to form a three-headed attack for Niagara as they held off the Bulls. UB finally tied it up shortly before the Under-8 timeout at 25, having edged their way back while Niagara's early success from three dwindled. A three pointer from Sloane Walton made it 28-28, at which point UB was 5-10 from distance while Niagara was 3-10.
Walton's three kicked off an 8-0 run for UB that helped build a 34-28 lead, and it felt like the Bulls were about the run away with the game as the pace picked up. Unfortunately, (I told you to get to know this name) Val McQuade hit two threes in about 15 seconds to tie it up. A couple quick threes from MacKenzie Loesing in the last 90 seconds helped UB to a 44-39 halftime lead, but it was clear from the first twenty minutes that neither team was going to go away and both could put up a half dozen points pretty quickly.
At the half, the players of the game were clearly Buffalo's Margeaux Gupilan and Niagara's Val McQuade. McQuade shared the game lead with MacKenzie Loesing, as both players had 13 points, while Gupilan was well on her way to her best game so far this year.
WBB: Gupilan is having a great day, with 8 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Those are right around her normal game averages.
WBB: Gupilan is having a great day, with 8 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. Those are right around her normal game averages.— UB Athletics (@UBAthletics) December 21, 2013
UB was making its money with an 18-10 advantage in the paint, while Niagara took hold of too many UB turnovers to a 10-2 advantage off the giveaways.
The second half started slowly after a wild final 8 minutes in the first. The first media timeout saw only 4 points scored for each team, and no real momentum to speak of. Niagara busted out one of their wholesale line changes - they must have made five substitutions at once at least a half-dozen times this afternoon - and all it really did was help UB get into the bonus with 13 minutes to go and a 54-48 lead in a stop-and-start half.
The next few minutes featured Gupilan and McQuade trading highlights as UB struggled to hold onto its lead. Five straight points for McQuade - with Loesing's third foul stuck in there - brought Niagara within one, but UB's star hit a jumper and then turned two consecutive steals into Cherridy Thornton buckets into a 61-53 lead with ten minutes to go. At this point McQuade had 28 points in 26 minutes on the floor.
It remained close until the final ticks in a setting reminiscent of the Pitt game, as UB's struggled to maintain a two possession lead while their opponent seemed to do just enough to keep me nervous. While McQuade rested Kelly Van Leeuwen picked up the slack for Niagara with five straight points of her own. Suddenly UB was holding onto a one point lead with only a few minutes to go despite leading for the entire second half.
The dagger ultimately came earlier than you thought it might. A Kristen Sharkey bucket with 2:39 gave her 11 points and built UB a 6 point lead that they wouldn't come close to relinquishing. One of the hallmarks of this UB team is just how many players can fill the stat sheet, and while Gupilan had a double double with 13 points and 10 assists, and Loesing poured in 18 points, Sharkey was the quiet star of the game whose name always seemed to pop up when Niagara built a bit of momentum, scoring 12 points and grabbing down 12 rebounds.
Christa Baccas also had 13 points and 13 boards as UB put up big numbers all over the place. So that's, uh, three double-doubles and 18 points from the leading scorer. A formula for success, if I do say so myself.
My radio feed got preempted by the men's game in Manhattam with UB up 71-68, and while I was upset:
... all I really missed was a bunch of free throw shots as UB took care of business at the end despite only finishing 18-29 for the game.
A solid, if expected, win for this up-and-down Bulls team.
Key Stat? TWELVE steals and +14 advantage on the boards for Buffalo against the Purps as they took hold in the second half.
And Val McQuade? 31 points on 6 threes and 10-16 shooting . I for one am glad that we don't have to face her again this year.