Days after ending one long losing streak to a MAC East foe, the UB Women's Basketball team got a chance at another, but failed to knock off the Akron Zips on the road, falling 80-71 in a game that was exceptionally close throughout Wednesday.
Whatever your general feeling on this season is, you'll find a stat to back that up in this game. UB excelled at times and in some parts of the box score, and fell victim to familiar pitfalls in others. Stephanie Reid had a BIG day - even considering her surprising start to her Bulls career - in putting up a career-high 10 points and 7 assists. Hannah Plybon outside and Sina King inside led the Zips with 21 apiece.
You'll also find many similarities to the men's team of late in this one; a truly strong effort throughout undone by an overreliance on the three-point shot and inability to defend on the perimeter. Still, the team never really faded and Akron only salted things away in the final minute. 81-70 does not at all do the game justice.
Heading into the home stretch of the first half, you had to have a strong feeling of deja vu. Over the last few seasons, UB has regularly pushed the MAC's elite for stretches, only to fade late in the first half or after a few minutes in the second. Though UB had erased an earlier seven-point deficit, a small Akron run in the last two minutes felt ominous.
But four points in the last ten seconds, on a Reid drive and Baccas steal, pulled UB even at 36. The half was a story of extremes; Akron outrebounded the Bulls 21-11 but was also pressured into an astonishing 16 turnovers. Buffalo had taken 11 more shots than the Zips but was only tied because of great Akron shooting, including 4-6 from distance.
Individually, Reid had 8 points without missing a shot and 3 assists, while Kristen Sharkey added 9. Hannah Plybon, Akron's top outside threat, led all scorers with 13.
The Zips would lead, thought not by a large margin, for much of the second half -- a rather different game from the opening period. The rebounding battle evened out a bit, and Akron took better care of the ball, but the real difference was many more fouls and free throws. When UB's defensive pressure was successful, they pulled closer, and when it was whistled, Akron pulled away a bit.
Much like the men recently, the offense chugged along and efficiently produced points, but the defense could not stop anything from outside. Akron hit 8-11 from distance to keep the Bulls at bay, finally pulling away when UB missed a few late and few mystifying fouls added up. Postgame, Assistant Coach Blake DuDonis speaking to Sloane Martin referenced "little momentum killers," and I couldn't agree more. Akron was successful in making UB pay above and beyond the cost of missed opportunities.
If I were to make a pregame checklist for the Bulls this game, I would be largely satisfied with this result:
- Secondary scoring - Reid, Baccas, and Malone were all at nine points or more
- Forcing turnovers without too many fouls - The infractions added up late, but UB did force 24 turnovers
- Efficient offense throughout - But for the last few minutes, UB didn't have many strings of prolonged stagnancy, and were great in the paint, off turnovers, and on second-chance points
- A big day for Sharkey - We can't take her for granted, and you know defenses are gunning for her, but she led all scorers with 22 points.
- An efficient day from Mackenzie Loesing - This didn't happen. Against the top of the conference, we need more than a 1:2 points:shot ratio from the junior
- More even perimeter matchups - This didn't happen. On D, it's been the Bulls' calling card the last few season, but Ohio and Akron have victimized us this year now. On O, 1-24 from three is the worst this season, and that's saying something. All those misses and it was still a winnable game, too.
Though it's only a two-game road trip, this week will prove critical for the Bulls' hopes at a bye in the conference tournament. Saturday they'll head to Western Michigan. The Broncos are one of the top teams in the MAC, but only edged UB by three points in their earlier game this season, a game in which Reid played just five minutes.
I'll maintain what I said in a comment elsewhere on the site earlier in the day: UB is not in bad shape right now. They get Akron again at home, and have shown they can play with the top of the conference deep into games. In their remaining contests against Ohio, WMU, and the Zips, they'll need to turn those close games into wins.
Their other games come against the very bottom of the conference. If Buffalo can sweep their remaining contests against Kent, Bowling Green, and Miami, and get even one win out of the other three, they'll top last year's conference win total and be in decent shape for a bye. Get two of Ohio, Akron and WMU, and they'll be in great shape. It's a much different 6-5 than the men's record.