A tumultuous year for UB Women's basketball is coming down the wire, but if today's any indication, the Bulls are putting it together at the right time after an 87-80 win on Senior Day over the Akron Zips.
UB came into today needing to win out in all but the most convoluted scenarios to take a top-four seed in the MAC Tournament. With two winnable road games to close out the season, the win should be a kick-start to a strong finishing run.
Today's victory features a first half unlike any stretch we've seen from Buffalo this season and steady, composed play in the second. Only the Canisius and Ball State wins from this season compare in there completeness. Stephanie Reid (21 points, 4 assists) and Joanna Smith (20 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists), both set new career highs for the Bulls, while Alexus Malone (17) and Christa Baccas each hit 15 points as well.
Sina King scored 24 and Anita Brown 31 for the Zips, but UB limited Akron's options to just those two and shooter Hannah Plybon, and the rest of the team scored only nine points total.
If I told you the key swing in the game was a 9-0 run from Akron in the span of about 70 first-half seconds, you might be surprised to hear UB won the game, and won it so decisively (though things did even up and get more tenuous in the second half). But from there, Buffalo closed the half with lockdown defense, and used a lightning 10-0 run in the second half to build a lead they'd never relinquish even in a more even stanza.
UB's calling card this season has been stretches of strong first-half play amidst longer stupor, and the Bulls have time and time again have been forced to build comebacks in the second. And of course, more generally, it's been strength down low. In the surprising first half today, guards Joanna Smith and Stephanie Reid lit it up, Smith for a career high 16-points and Reid on a perfect 4-4 from the floor. Each hit twice from distance.
Thanks to those two, UB took a 36-26 lead into the break. Other than that 9-0 Akron run late in the half, which UB matched with a 7-1 finish of their own, Buffalo played a steady half, forcing 11 turnovers for 11 points and grabbing 10 offensive boards in 21 opportunities.
The Bulls defense in the second half wasn't great, but did generate eight turnovers and win the defensive glass. Offensively, UB used the space generated from the guards' first-half success to shoot 50% from the floor and 72% from the line while judiciously attempting only three threes. Reid, Malone, and Baccas all had double-figure scoring in the second half alone.
The most impressive stretch of the second to me, though, was when Akron gained some momentum with around eight to play. UB quickly was in foul trouble and the Zips threatening to go on a run. Ayana Bradley, Liisa Ups, and Smith stepped in for Malone, Loesing, and Baccas and shut the visitors down long enough that the fouls were no longer much of an issue.
It was a whole-team effort. So much so that I need to awkwardly shoehorn in that Mariah Suchan even played notable minutes in this one. She didn't light anything up, but was not at all a liability and looks ready to join Cassie Oursler (and Courtney Wilkins? She might be more of a shooter) as the next generation of UB forwards.
If you missed this one, I'd highly recommend finding a way to watch the replay on ESPN3 over the next week. It was just a wonderful game, and a great way to send of the seniors, who hopefully will not be returning to Alumni for a first-round MAC Tournament game.
Next up for UB is a road game against Bowling Green on Wednesday. The Falcons have been decimated by injuries this year and sit near the bottom of the MAC. Hopefully UB keeps bringing the pressure and can finish the year 11-7 in the MAC.