I wrote all sorts of nice words pregame about the historical significance of UB's 6-3 start to this women's basketball season. For my hubris we were treated to bar-none the worst first half of basketball I have ever seen from a UB team.
If I can put forward a defense, LIU-Brooklyn is a rather bad basketball team, coming into this afternoon's game at just 2-6 and only managed to hold a 31-30 halftime lead and 79-73 final margin despite all the awful things I'm about to tell you.
It's hard to put the hideous first half into words. Coach Jack had already run her rotation nine-deep by the first media timeout, because no one could take care of the ball. When UB did get over halfcourt, they shot 48% for the half, but those shots were far and few between.
LIU-Brooklyn deployed an aggressive, pressing defense, and more often than not stymied UB, who committed 21 turnovers in the first 13 minutes. For an agonizing 6- or 7-minute stretch it felt like the Bulls were blindly rotating guards to find a workable combination. Alexus Malone committed five turnovers in the half and I think four came on four consecutive touches.
Enter Camera Miley. I wouldn't say that UB finished the half strong, but they did slowly chip away at a ten point deficit with Miley running the point, and only committed two turnovers over the final seven minutes.
I of course wasn't privy to Coach Jack's halftime words, but I'm sure I can imagine them well enough. UB did get a 9-0 run out of the break and threatened to run away, but quickly fell into a tight game again. The two teams wavered in the four-point margin between LIU-up-three and UB-up-1 all the way down to seven minutes remaining, when the Blackbird lead swelled to 6.
Through this stretch we saw flashes of the usual Mackenzie Loesing, who at times brought the ball up court and to the rim with confidence on her way to 17 points on the night. We also saw a bunch of mistakes that have become oddly usual for #35: the junior airballed a few three-point attempts and committed a handful of silly fouls that helped LIU extend their advantage.
The turning point came with 5 minutes to play. Christa Baccas committed a similarly silly infraction - her fourth - on the perimeter, and Coach Jack received a technical in the aftermath. By the time UB touched the ball again, the Blackbirds had hit four free throws and a three-pointer.
The third-year UB boss was more vocal and persistent than her usual disagreements with the officials, and LIU enjoyed a 37-20 advantage in free throws. Buffalo did not make the most of their limited chances, shooting just 11-20 from the line. An unfortunate revival of last season's daemons.
The difference today from comeback wins against St. Bonaventure and Cornell was that the Bulls never looked alert. In spurts they clearly demonstrated themselves the better team physically and in skill, but mentally they were completely outclassed. The second half was not atrociously bad like the first, but it was still plenty bad.
The final stats are just as ugly as the forty minutes of play: 34 turnovers for UB, 30 for LIU. Only two Bulls played consistently throughout: Miley hit three from distance for 16 points and we got some vintage Kristen Sharkey: 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, and 3 blocks in 36 IronMan minutes.
On the flip side, Alexus Malone finished 1-6 from distance with 8 turnovers, and Loesing was 1-8 from distance and 4-10 from the line.
I suppose that UB can come back to Buffalo, beat Canisius to finish their nonconference schedule, and open MAC play with a win on 3 January and I'll feel better, but right now everything tastes sour. A win tonight would have given UB just their fourth five-game winning streak of the MAC era, and been their best start since 2002. But, better now than Canisius or literally any game in conference play.
The ladies are now off for a week and a day. Though their roadtrip continues, they will be back in Buffalo, taking on the Golden Griffins on Monday 29 December. I'll be at the Koessler Center with live coverage as the Bulls look to go 3-0 against the rest of the Big Four.