It's been a strange season for UB Women's Basketball. Picked preseason to win the MAC East, the Bulls were slowed by continued ankle injury to Mackenzie Loesing, the departure of Rachael Gregory, and inconsistent shot selection to a 6-5 start to conference play.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Even at 6-5 now, I feel strongly that <a href="https://twitter.com/UBwomenshoops">@UBwomenshoops</a> will finish with 11 or 12 wins this MAC season. Poised for big finish.</p>— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) <a href="https://twitter.com/UBBullRun/status/565708609049604097">February 12, 2015</a></blockquote>
<script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
The midseason addition of Stephanie Reid as well as the late rise of fellow guard Joanna Smith has pushed the Bulls to more wins late. Today's 68-58 win in Kent over the host Golden Flashes, along with help from Ball State's victory over Toledo, pushes the Bulls (11-7 MAC) into the #4 seed and an automatic bye into the quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Today's win comes thanks to a balanced offensive attack and the usual (when things are going right) defensive adjustments after halftime. Through a closely-played first half, UB was largely unable to stop Kent center CiCi Shannon, much like the first two meetings of the teams. But strong shooting and in particular nine points from each of Kristen Sharkey and Mackenzie helped the Bulls to a 31-29 lead at the break.
There was no burst or wild swing of momentum in this one: UB simply played better in the second, getting a 6-0 run to start the half before building their lead to nine at the first media timeout and rarely leading by less than ten for the rest of the game.
The Bulls shot nearly 40% on the day, led by 5-7 from Alexus Malone and 6-10 from Joanna Smith, who hit 15 points for the third straight game in UB's three-game winning streak. Kristen Sharkey and Mackenzie Loesing joined Malone and Smith in double figures.
As a team, UB hit four three-pointers on just 11 attempts while shooting 22-32 from the line. Kent state only attempted nine foul shots. Simply put, that's how you win. The Golden Flashes never led in the game.
Buffalo finishes the MAC season 11-7, finishing on a 5-2 run, to jump from sixth to fourth thanks to favorable tiebreakers. In hindsight, the two most helpful results for the Bulls were their own victory over Eastern Michigan, which gave them the tiebreakers over the Eagles and Broncos, and Ball State's win over Toledo today.
UB needed a win and just one of three different MAC games to go their way, and Ball State over the Rockets was the only one that did. Fortunately, it was enough, and it was a comfortable lead throughout for the Cardinals to save my nerves.
Still, I'm not sure how confident I am, as we saw the same inconsistencies in the late-season run as we had earlier. The Bulls squeaked out a home win against Kent, dropped a torpid match against Miami that looked to kill any chances of a bye, and were a no-show for 25 minutes against Ohio before showing why they could be the best. At the same time, they played strong throughout against WMU and Akron to get two key wins and tiebreaker capital.
With focus and intensity, UB can outplay anyone in the conference. Here's hoping that's what we see once the first rounds of the tournament shake out and their opponent becomes clear.