I can't think of a stronger contrast in environments between last night's men's basketball party-turned-blowout and this afternoon's women's game against Eastern Michigan, the first in Ypsilanti since the EMU team and community lost forward Shannise Heady to a tragic automobile accident.
In pregame remarks to Sloane Martin, Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack spoke of "respecting the situation by preparing like we do for every other game." It was a very similar tone to her attitude earlier in the season, when UB played Niagara in the Purple Eagles' first game after their nationally-known bus odyssey.
With a full week off, the UB preparation led to the largest margin of victory of the season in a 75-53 road win. Kristen Sharkey led the Bulls with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but Alexus Malone added her first double-double since Manhattan with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Both forwards were key in the second half as UB pulled away.
Today, a messy stretch in the second half never went entirely south. Buffalo capitalized on a huge height advantage down low and too many EMU fouls to maintain a several-possession lead until regaining their footing and punching back late in the second half. Upon building a comfortable lead, UB kept the foot on the pedal to get to .500 in MAC play for the first time this season.
Before that stretch and despite two early fouls for sparkplug point guard Stephanie Reid, UB once again showed their upward trajectory of late in the first, shooting 45% and owning the boards on the way to a 40-31 lead.
Buffalo did lead nearly throughout, thanks to the early exploits of Mackenzie Loesing. After missing two weeks to a concussion, the junior scored 8 of UB's first 15 points, and UB rode their forward trio of Sharkey, Christa Baccas, and Malone into the break.
A quick look at the box score shows the usual pitfalls for UB: 18 attempted threes and 23 turnovers were compounded by limited minutes for Reid, though Loesing alone counted for half of those shots from distance.
But in the flow of the game, other than a ten minute or so stretch after the break, the Bulls pushed to their strengths, finishing with a 52-37 advantage on the boards and a whopping 44 points in the paint. It helps, of course, when the team is clicking in the secondary offensive stats; "I was really happy with 16 assists. We keep seeing that number go up and up," said Assistant Coach Blake DuDonis to WGR's Sloane Martin after the game.
It's not new, and it's not surprising, but this team is figuring out how to more consistently work to its strengths. Loesing continues to take and miss a ton of shots, but otherwise I was pleased to see the three starting forwards combine for 101 minutes, 49 points, 21 rebounds, and a combined 19-30 from the floor.
For the Eagles, reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Cha Sweeney struggled to do much of anything, scoring just 12 points on 19 shots, and none of the home team managed more than six rebounds.
UB is now 4-4 in the MAC, back to .500 with more than half the MAC schedule left. The early loss to Ohio doesn't look so bad anymore, as the Bobcats are going wild on the conference, but Buffalo must first avenge a more recent loss. They next play at home on Wednesday, 4 February against the Toledo Rockets, who handed UB their last loss in a heartbreaking overtime game 10 days ago.
|Points||Sasha Dailey, Cha Sweeney (12)||Kristen Sharkey (24)|
|Rebounds||Sweeney (6)||Alexus Malone (15)|
|Assists||Sweeney (4)||Karin Moss (5)|
|Blocks||Brianna Puni, Sara Ozelci (2)||Sharkey, Christa Baccas (1)|
|Steals||Janay Morton (5)||Karin Moss(3)|