After three games below the Mason-Dixon line, UB Women's Hoops didn't quite return home tonight, but they did get back to New York, at least, heading to Ithaca this evening to take on Cornell. UB as an athletics department has had pretty crummy results against the Big Red this season, but a gritty team performance flipped that script as Buffalo claimed a 65-58 win in a tight game that saw 16 combined ties and lead changes.
The early news for UB was the return of 6'2" Christa Baccas, who missed five games to a foot injury dating back to UB's last home game against Niagara, after which Coach Jack told us "It's not as bad as it looks, but we want to be safe." Today, Baccas came in with a bang, racking up 4 points, 2 boards, and a block in her first two minutes on the floor.
By the under-twelve timeout, it was a 10-10 game marked by 13 combined turnovers and 7 steals early on. Rachael Gregory earned UB's first free throws, but missed both, and the Big Red capitalized with the first three-pointer of the game in the sloppy early going. Cornell got into the bonus before the ten-minute mark, and I don't really know what to say about this team and fouls anymore other than they frequently commit too many.
UB did switch to a zone defense at around this point and was able to slow Cornell a bit, but kept turning the ball over, as well. The one highlight early on was Buffalo's 8-4 advantage in points in the paint, but that was undone by Kristen Sharkey's second foul with six to play in the half and Buffalo trailing 17-12.
It got worse before it got better. UB's scoreless stretch extended to about six full minutes while Cornell got to a 21-12 lead. Alexus Malone, Christa Baccas, and an adjusted defense helped UB spark a comeback and a number of Big Red turnovers. UB closed the half on an 8-4 run to draw within 4, 23-27.
All in all, the first half was... not something to celebrate. In addition to the scoring drought, UB was outrebounded by a large margin, and the two teams combined for 29 turnovers. Mackenzie Loesing and Baccas led the Bulls with 6 points apiece.
The beginning of the second half was an entirely different game. Both teams scored 14 points by the first media timeout. Baccas hit double digits quickly, and at that point UB's forwards were 11-17 from the floor. The Bulls' poor rebounding, however, helped Cornell maintain their lead despite the Buffalo surge.
It didn't last. Another scoring drought kept UB off the board for 4:45 until a Loesing 3-pointer, and the fouls and turnovers just kept coming. After Loesing hit that three, a flurry on the next UB possession brought the Bulls once again within 3, but a Sharkey foul gave her four and Cornell a six point advantage with nine to play.
For much of the game, Cornell and UB shot about the same, but the Big Red capitalized on their rebounding advantage and on UB's turnovers. A six-minute stretch saw the Bulls improve their shooting and rebounding and completely change my opinion of the game. Buffalo fought back on a number of Cornell turnovers and after getting to a 50-50 tie on Baccas' 14th point of the night, and used two steals from Alexus Malone to get to 55-52 as Cornell went through a scoring drought of their own.
The final three minutes were an absolutely dogfight, with nearly a half-dozen lead changes in that span alone. Thankfully, Buffalo got a 59-58 lead on yet another Christa Baccas bucket and never let Cornell score again on their way to a 65-58 win.
It would be easy to say UB outperformed Cornell in the second half, and that was that, but it's not quite true. The shift came with about ten minutes to play, when the Bulls shifted to a more aggressive, pressing defense that generated more turnover without costing the Bulls fouls. From there the shooting and rebounding improved, though Cornell still had a 45-37 advantage on the boards. UB really only outdid the Big Red in steals and blocks.
Assistant Coach Blake DuDonis, speaking to Sloane Martin after the game on KB1520 addressed the disparities in team stats, "We looked sluggish [on the boards], and the refereeing; they were calling it fair, which meant it was tight, and we're a physical team."
Individually, can we possibly say enough about Christa Baccas? DuDonis also noted that the coaching staff didn't intend to play her for more than 10 or 15 minutes, but she forced their hand with 16 points (on 8-10 shooting), 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals. And thank goodness for that. Malone, Rachael Gregory, and Mackenzie Loesing, who looked better offensively than she has in a few games, also hit double digits for UB, while Sharkey and Karin Moss flashed Buffalo's depth with 9 each, as well.
There are two ways to look at this game: For thirty minutes it was many of this team's usual weaknesses combining with atypical deficiencies, and I continue to be concerned about fouls and turnovers, For ten minutes the team went after it with nothing to lose and gutted out a win, slowly turning the momentum, and were in position to do that thanks to excellent play throughout from a senior captain that hadn't been a part of the last four games.
You wouldn't be wrong to place more emphasis on either side, but if you've read anything from me before, you know that I'm picking the second. The fight over the last ten minutes was something this team hasn't had to display this year, and to see it against Cornell, who has had UB's number across all sports this year, is even more satisfying.
UB will next play their third and final home game before MAC play on Monday, 15 December, when St. Bonaventure comes to town. Buffalo lost to the Bonnies, 76-71, in overtime last year in the Reilly Center.