If you look at the scoreboard and the box score, tonight's 72-55 win over Canisius looks about right for UB Women's Basketball, who have with the exception of an early stumble against Siena and last week's troubles against LIU-Brooklyn put together a very strong nonconference showing.
And if the numbers don't quite look like they have in the team's half-dozen other wins this year, they at least look like the recipe for success we expected coming into the year: Kristen Sharkey was unstoppable to the tune of 26 points, Mackenzie Loesing and Alexus Malone hit double digits, and everyone had a hand in 45 rebounds and 14 assists.
Without a doubt it was UB's most complete game of the season in their final tune up before MAC play starts this weekend: After it took the Bulls two and a half minutes to move from 7-7 to 11-7, the defense clamped down and the team simply ran away from the home team, building a huge first-half lead at 30-17 with under four minutes to go.
The second half was more of the same. Sharkey slowed down a touch from her 17-point opening frame, but still scored 9 more after the break. UB simply operated at a different level than Canisius, and halfway through the half the Bulls had a 20-point advantage when Christa Baccas skied up to corral a Joanna Smith shot and immediately put it back in.
Meanwhile, the defense was as good as it's been all season, holding Canisius to under 30% shooting and forcing a 10 minute stretch where the Golden Griffins' only points came from the line. It was a lot of fun for the Canisius haters among us.
Despite all these highlights, UB only won by 17. Now, I have been chastised here before for complaining about the refereeing, especially in relatively comfortable Buffalo wins. Tonight, I do not care. This was bar-none the worst-refereed game I have ever seen, and the large UB contingent* and Coach Jack joined me in the displeasure.
The raw foul numbers themselves show an even game, but it was ridiculous. Beginning with six minutes to play in the first, shortly before the high-water mark, UB was whistled for 7 of the final 8 infractions, including several offensive on Baccas and Sharkey that frankly still have me mystified. The swing in momentum helped Canisius stay in the game: what should have been a near-twenty point lead was instead only seven. There was no stretch in the second half that matched the same level of egregiousness, but once against calls against UB came just as the Bulls threatened to make it a laugher.
I know here's not much worth in me outlining specific calls, but I'll point out three: A no-call after a Canisius player on offense used a combination of straight-arm and hip check to send Loesing flying. A pair of calls in juxtaposition, when Loesing perfectly played a two-on-one and could. not. have. done. more. to earn a charge, but was whistled for the block, only for UB to be called for a very questionable charge a few minutes later. A technical on Kristen Sharkey that may still have Sharkey and Coach Jack in the dark, because neither knew quite what had gone wrong.
Getting off the whiny soapbox, there were a number of positives, as well:
- Coach Jack despite frequent disagreements with the refs, avoided going over the line, even when one official gave her the "talk to the hand", and at one point calmed her temper by taking a long walk down past the end of the bench.
- I enjoy the high vantage point I get from the press seats in Alumni Arena, but you miss out on the little things when you're further away. I was very, very impressed with Kristen Sharkey's composure this evening, both when things went against her, and in calming and centering her teammates on the floor.
- UB's guard play is improving, though it comes with a more even rotation. Joanna Smith, Karin Moss, and Camera Miley all had strong stretches over their 20 minutes, but none put down a particularly impressive line. I love Moss' energy - on both defense and offense it's that twitchy, unpredictable ball of lightning we once saw in Barry Sanders and Benny the Jet Rodriguez from the Sandlot - but tonight her offensive game was just not there. Miley and Smith were both calm and safe with the ball, which is good to see.
- Buffalo fans OWNED the Koessler Athletic Center. To say it was 70% pro-UB would likely be an understatement. Seriously. The crowd included a large contingent of UB Athletics staff and coaches, which was great to see and a heck of a lot of fun. Thanks to this I got to experience one of the most surreal moments I've ever seen at a hoops game: with the road team shooting free throws, the room was silent. You never, ever see that.
- Finally, the three players who joined the team this week were not on the bench tonight, but were right behind in the seats. I asked UB Athletic Compliance on Twitter if that was compliance-related and was told 'sort of'. I'm sure that we'll at least see the two Aussies in uniform, and all three on the bench, soon enough.