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Buffalo Bulls 47, Northern Illinois Huskies 43: Second-half offense the difference for Women's Basketball

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Christa Baccas (44) was the star for UB today, coming up big in 40 full minutes at both ends
Christa Baccas (44) was the star for UB today, coming up big in 40 full minutes at both ends
UB Athletics

Slowly, more slowly than we'd like, Women's Basketball seems to be coming around. At the very least, they're moving in the opposite direction of the men's team.

For the second straight home game Saturday afternoon, the Bulls held their opponents to under 45 points in a 47-43 win over Northern Illinois. UB was particularly effective in the second half, shooting nearly 50% from the floor, attempting only two threes, and getting to the line 18 times.

Thanks to ESPN3, I was able to rewatch the game despite missing it in real time. Please excuse the resulting delay in this post. That said, knowing the score and the final box beforehand, I'll be paying special attention to three things:

  • 3-point shooting (of course). UB was 4-13 today, which is ok in my eyes. You need to keep the defense honest. Even better, thay only attempted two shots from distance in the second half as the offense got rolling.
  • Fouls. Looks like it was a relatively clean first half, with only four total free throws, but UB got the line 18 times in the second while sending NIU there just seven times.
  • Christa Baccas. Statistically, it looks like a big day for her, with 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks (and 0 fouls!) in 40 minutes. If Baccas can join Kristen Sharkey as an effective option at both ends for a full 40, it allows Alexus Malone and Ayana Bradley to trade off and be more aggressive when they see the floor.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts, some emotion: Holy crap Christa Baccas. How often do you see a game-saving block at the end of the game. I don't care about any of the rest of the good-looking stats if they don't come with that one. Huge, and indicative of UB's defensive presence throughout. Whew.

The key swing in this came out of the break. After just 11 agonizing points in the first half, UB started the second on a 12-0 run that became 14-2 and 18-4, taking a 29-24 lead they would not relinquish, though Buffalo only once pulled further away than that five point advantage for the rest of the game (35-29 at just under 9 to play).

And that, to me, is an encouraging turn of events after the end of the Toledo game, in which the Rockets chipped away at a second-half deficit and tied the game up nearly a half dozen times to force overtime. Not that the Bulls got a full 40. They were good to get a similar defensive effort in both halves, because it took them the entire first half to get things going on offense.

Even so, Baccas looked good in a good matchup against shorter opposition. I know this team doesn't shoot well, and want to avoid cliches, but it really was just tough breaks for the senior early. Each of her shots was a good look, and she still managed 4 rebounds and 2 blocks in the half.

I've come to the point of hoping the first three-pointer is a miss, just to knock down the outside confidence a bit. Today, though, when Alexus Malone hit the first attempt, it was really the only thing that worked early. Buffalo hit only four field goals in the half, three from distance, and missed their only two free throws.

But for the third straight game, UB has put together at least one strong half from the floor. Turnover numbers were still high, but it's easier to stomach when you shoot 50% in the second half. And of course, you want two strong halves, but improvement is improvement and today it was enough to win.

Qualitatively, the difference here was UB's size. After rebounding 50% of opportunities on the defensive end in the first half, that number became nearly 75% in the second, and no one at all got into foul trouble. Sharkey and Baccas combined for just a single infraction in 77 combined minutes.

For the game, Buffalo got only 18 points in the paint, but added 13 from the line, accounting for 75% of their points from inside. And on the replay, perhaps I was less nervous because I knew the result, but it didn't feel like UB ever lost control with the lead until the dying seconds and that huge block from Baccas. They weren't able to pull away - because NIU hit a three every time the lead hit five* - but the defense held strong, committed few fouls, generated ten turnovers, and ceded only 6 offensive rebounds after the break.

*I do mean every time

I've gone a long while here without highlighting any individual performances. Truth be told, this feels like a team win for me. BUT. Stephanie. Monday to Friday. Reid.* It still hasn't been a month and she's still improving. Look at this line: 6 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, and a block. And only 2 turnovers. Rock n Roll.

*see this clip, one of the greatest "make it G-Rated" dubs of all time:

<iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/z4t6zNZ-b0A" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Also Kristen Sharkey, who I am at this point taking for granted. Another huge, bellwether day for the senior, with 18 points and 7 rebounds. 12 and 6 came in the second half. She's just UB's old reliable down low and she is awesome.

Shark gif 2

UB's next in action on the 31st after a full week off. They'll travel to Ypsilanti for a matchup against Eastern Michigan.

Go Bulls!