A busy week means I'm a bit behind on my women's basketball updates, but fortunately for you, Bulls fans, the team has been on point, winning two consecutive games against Northern Illinois and Kent State in the last week. Heading into this afternoon's game against conference-leading Bowling Green, the Bulls have matched last season's conference win total in three fewer games, and sit at 8-5 in the MAC and, as things stand right now, hold the #4 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament.
Neither of Buffalo's previous two wins came easy, however. A week ago, UB found itself down 13 at the under-12 against conference bottom feeder Northern Illinois.
The Bulls, however, would use a 20-1 run to ultimately build a 11 point advantage and iced the game away.
Earlier in the year I was quick to tout the statistical balance and superior conditioning of Felisha Legette-Jack's team as the Bulls have made a hallmark out of a stifling defense late in games. In a win against Ohio earlier this month, the Bobcats failed to score at all in the last four and a half minutes as UB turned a nailbiter into a double digit lead.
Another surprise of the season has been the emergence of freshman Alexus Malone, who against NIU potted a very Kraken-like 20 points and 10 boards. The nice thing about UB's depth is that it's really spread out across classes: forwards Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas are juniors, do-everything guard Mackenzie Loesing and queen of clutch Karin Moss are sophomores, and Malone is just a freshman herself. Rachel Gregory, who has been injured all season, is also a sophomore. It's clear that Coach Jack is not just succeeding with a player or two but building a program that will survive roster turnover in the coming years.
Buffalo's most recent win again required a little bit of oomph in the second half. The women have been just as susceptible this season to scoring droughts as the men, and have additionally been stymied at times by the quickened pace of some MAC opponents. More than a few of the team's losses this year have come when foul trouble keeps playmakers off the floor, and multi-possession leads and momentum are frittered away.
It looked to be more of the same against Kent, as Malone racked up her fourth foul early in the second half and the team as a whole followed up a 37-point first half to make very little out of the first fifteen minutes out of the break, as a ten-point halftime lead dwindled and disappeared, giving the Flashes a 48-45 lead shortly before the final media timeout.
A late 14-2 run elicited memories of the Ohio game, and UB roared into the final 30 seconds with a 59-50 lead, on their way to a 61-53 final. Despite being outrebounded 40-27 in the game, and barely scoring for 15 long minutes, UB was able to stay in the game and ultimately reclaim the lead by forcing a season-high 29 turnovers.
With the win UB maintained its advantage over Toledo for the #4 seed in the conference tournament and turned their attention to this afternoon's matchup against the Bowling Green Falcons. Longtime frontrunners in the MAC, the Falcons are coming off a statement win over previously unbeaten Central Michigan. This is UB's second shot at the East Division favorites this season; if you'll recall, the first ended in a 62-50 Falcons victory at the Stroh Center, a game that saw Mackenzie Loesing score eight very early points, then suffer a concussion that kept her out for a while.
While Bowling Green is a strong favorite in this one, they didn't have to deal with Loesing for 32 of the game's 40 minutes the last time these two faced off, and have to travel to Alumni this day. A UB win is possible, and would really cause observers around the MAC to sit up and take notice. To pull it off, the Bulls are going to have to stay out of foul trouble in order to get most of their minutes to the seven best players, are going to have to mitigate the accelerated pace that Bowling Green will try to run at, and are going to have to avoid scoring droughts of any length.
UB's next win will be the team's ninth in conference. Although the team has achieved eight MAC wins twice in recent seasons, they haven't won nine in a year since the 2002-2003 season.
Tip off this afternoon is at 2:00 PM. Go Bulls!