It's been a tumultuous couple weeks for UB Women's Hoops, as MAC play has exposed the chinks in that armor that at least I didn't want to admit during OOC play, and redshirt sophomore Rachael Gregory abruptly left the team in the last seven days.
Today, UB rose to 2-3 in conference play with a 53-43 win over Ball State, completely shutting down the Cardinals in the second half. Kristen Sharkey led the Bulls in the first half for the second straight game, passing 1,000 career points early in the contest and finishing with team-highs of 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Stephanie Reid, who I have been high on to take over point guard duties, got the start in her third game. Her five points won't particularly wow anyone, but the eye test demands that after 36 minutes today she take over the role; the offense as a whole is clearly different with her running things; everyone and the ball keeps moving.
Somewhat unfortunately, Reid's first highlight was a pretty drive-and-dish to a wide open Mackenzie Loesing, who drained a three. That make spurred the Bulls, and Loesing in particular, to too much confidence and a 1-10 start from distance. UB and Ball State would finish the first half a combined 2-24 from three, and the game 8-47.
Even from inside the arc, the story of the game was simply awful shooting by both teams; UB alternated between 5-8 point spurts and several minutes of nothing, but benefited from a strong rebounding game, especially on the offensive glass. Buffalo pulled down an outstanding 27 offensive rebounds and earned 13 more shots than their opponents. With those extra attempts, UB was also able to draw a ton of fouls and enter the double bonus early in each half.
Simply, UB won this game on their defense, especially in the second half, when the Bulls held the Cardinals to separate scoring droughts of 5+ and 9+ minutes. The Cardinals, the MAC's top team from the floor, shot just 3-24 in the second half, and helped Buffalo further by going 4-8 from the line after a 12-12 start. Nathalie Fontaine, the reigning MAC West Player of the Week, was held scoreless after the break.
There's plenty of reason to not be 100% elated about this despite those fun numbers; once again the offense was woefully inefficient. UB shot 9-31 from the floor and 3-10 from three in the second half, and that was a notable improvement over the first. All those offensive boards were good for just 15 UB second chance points and 22 points in the paint.
That said, a number of players had their strongest games in some time. Reid finished with 5 points, 7 boards, 2 assists, and a steal in 36 minutes, which is really better than any of the other rotating guards have done in some time. Ayana Bradley, who's really the only player on the roster who stylistically could fill the Rachael Gregory role but has rarely seen the floor this season, was impressive with 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 steals in 17 minutes.
And of course, we got The Truth back. Alexus Malone fell off a cliff when MAC play started, but played a big part in sparking UB in the second half today, hitting consecutive three-pointers and then a layup shortly after midway through the second, give Buffalo a lead they would not relinquish. She didn't shoot great, but 8 points and 13 rebounds is her best game in a while.
This is the team I personally had a vision of during the preseason: a stifling defense, a huge advantage on the boards, and improvement over last year in the foul column (UB was whistled just 14 times today). I'm hopeful that the Bulls can keep it rolling.
UB now hits the road and will face the Toledo Rockets Wednesday night. Toledo is 2-2 in the MAC with today's game against WMU pending, and has similar results so far to UB: a ten point home win over Miami and a seven point road loss to Ohio. The Rockets do have a potent offense, though, having lost to Akron 102-101 in their most recent game.