On March 7th, the Buffalo Bulls Women's Basketball team quickly adopted a survive and advance mentality. After a chaotic season, the women managed to secure a home playoff game for the MAC tournament by grabbing the #8 seed. Buffalo was also on a hot streak as of late thanks to winning four of their last five games. Through stellar rebounding, defensive pressure, and an offense that didn't rely on only three scoring options; the Bulls were ready to take the MAC by a storm.
Bulls fans went straight to Alumni Arena after work as a result of a 5:30PM tip-off for round one action in the tournament. Buffalo was matched up with the Bowling Green Falcons for the third time of the season. In the first game, UB had no problem shutting the falcons down and cruised to a 60-53 victory. The second matchup proved to be a defensive dogfight where Buffalo slipped by with a 55-52 win.Winning against the same opponent three times is not an easy feat, but a necessary one if the Bulls wanted to make it to the quarterfinals.
Buffalo put together one of their best games of the season to cap off a Bowling Green sweep. The rebounding battle remained a dominant one in UB's favor. Almost four players reached double digits in scoring with a surging Mariah Suchan also collecting six points. With the win, Buffalo punched a ticket to Cleveland for a quarterfinal game with Ohio.
Ohio Has Fallen...Again
Coming into the MAC Tournament, the Ohio Bobcats only had two conference losses. Both of those losses came from the Bulls as the Bobcats looked like a completely different team. Part of Ohio's struggles in these games were because of Mid-American Conference star Kiyanna Black's blunders. The Bobcats were most definitely out for revenge and to prove that Buffalo wasn't their kryptonite.
Kiyanna Black struggled again and if it wasn't for her teammate Quiera Lampkins, the Bobcats wouldn't have been in the game at all. In Buffalo's late season surge, more balanced contributions to the scoreboard was the story. This wasn't the case and for old times sake, the Power Trio of Joanna Smith, Stephanie Reid, and Cassie Oursler showed up. Each member of the trio scored 15 or more points and Smith recorded another double-double.
Buffalo's three wins over Ohio sent a clear message that anyone in the conference could lose to the Bulls in a moment's notice.
Buffalo had surprisingly snuck their way back into the MAC Semi-finals with a much different team than a year ago. Never had an eight seed made it this far into the tourney and all that stood between UB and their first MAC championship game appearance was the Akron Zips. Unlike the Bulls' last two matchups — where they had swept Ohio and Bowling Green in the regular season — they had to face a team they had yet to conquer.
The game looked to be over in the early going. Once it became clear that Akron was controlling the pace in this game, Buffalo was in trouble. UB's strong suit was smothering opponents with defense and not offensive shootouts. Akron somehow managed to leave the first half with only a five point lead over the Bulls.
Buffalo soon took another hit as if having no handle on the pace wasn't enough. Stephanie Reid picked up her fourth foul early in the second half. The sophomore disagreed with the call and expressed her displeasure to a referee. She was quickly given a technical foul afterwards. Buffalo now had to win without their floor general.
The game should've been a hopeless basket case, but this team still managed to surprise. Gabi Bade soon took over the reigns of managing the team and what a spectacular job she did. The freshman from Northern California had one of her best games as a Bull and went on to score 13 points on 66% shooting. Bade proved that she was just as capable of a point guard as Reid in the most persuading of ways.
Another Bull also stepped up big in this game. For the entire latter portion of the season, Mariah Suchan's incredible defense and work subbing in for Oursler went unnoticed to many. Suchan had a phenomenal game versus Akron and with 20 seconds left on the clock, she tossed a layup that would all but seal the deal. Buffalo had made their way to the MAC Championship game thanks to an 88-87 win over the Zips.
Let's See How Far We've Come
The world might as well have been burning to the ground. Myself and fellow Bulls fans included couldn't believe what was happening. This couldn't be the team that lost five games in a row early in conference play. Making it to the conference championship game was plenty to call it a successful season, but in standard 2015-16 UB Women's Basketball fashion, an appearance in the MAC Championship wasn't enough.
Just like in the previous year with the men's team, Buffalo had an opportunity to get their first MAC Championship in a battle with the Central Michigan Chippewas. CMU controlled the pace but Buffalo didn't seem to oppose to it. The Bulls looked comfortable with a faster style and once again kept up with their opponent.
Joanna Smith made her usual dominant presence known early, making three of her first four shots. Her effort helped propel the Bulls to an early 19-11 lead over the Chippewas. After going stagnant in the second quarter, Buffalo entered the final half with a one point lead. There was no way that either team could run away with this game. Both teams were just as hungry for a title.
The game in it's entirety consisted of trading the lead. With seconds remaining in the final quarter, Mariah Suchan would commit a foul on CMU's Jewel Cotton. After sinking two free throws, the game was tied up. Championship game overtime had just become a reality.
Out of nowhere came Katherine Ups in overtime. Back to back threes would keep Buffalo right in the hunt. If it wasn't for how the game finished, these would be the two shots that send instant chills to a Bulls fan's spine. With three seconds left, Central Michigan tied the game up once again at 71 on a pair of free throws. Double overtime was imminent.
Monday to Friday
It's not every day that you see a star point guard show up from the other side of the world to play for a school they've never heard of. This was the case for Melbourne, Australia's Stephanie Reid. The 5-6 guard arrived in Buffalo with fellow friend and Bull Courtney Wilkins soon after they graduated high school. The timing was interesting because UB was already halfway through their basketball season.
Reid made an instant impact and filled a void at the one spot that no one else could fill at the time. Because of this instant impact, she quickly received her honorary Bull Run nickname "Monday to Friday", a reference to a Samuel L. Jackson line in Snakes on a Plane. Reid never slowed down after her first few games and has been one of the biggest keys in Buffalo's success.
With three seconds left on the clock, Coach Felisha Legette-Jack told her floor general she had enough time for two dribbles and a shot. Sure enough, with two dribbles, a perfectly timed Cassie Oursler screen, and a tossed up teardrop runner resulted in this:
Monday to Friday pic.twitter.com/MC18lJSHaa— Bull Run (@UBBullRun) March 12, 2016
Buffalo had just won their first MAC championship and in a typical ruin your nickname fashion, "Monday to Friday" knocked down a buzzer beater on Saturday. Surprisingly, this wasn't even Stephanie Reid's typical shot as she usually twists under players in the post and tosses up a scoop shot that ever so slightly hits the glass.
Celebration ensued, which included chanting of "Fli", making snow angels in confetti, and the largest amount of dabbing this writer has ever seen.
Teaching Bulls to Dance
Thanks to winning the MAC Championship, Buffalo received an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. UB received a 14 seed and squared off with #3 Ohio State six days later. Despite starting with an early lead, the Bulls were quickly blown out by the Buckeyes. Amazingly, Buffalo outscored Ohio State in the second half, an impressive feat against a top-25 team. Their season may have ended in a crushing loss, but there was plenty to be happy about.
Nonetheless, UB's game with Ohio State remained interesting. In fact, this is the most admirable performance I have witnessed from this team and program because it caps together everything this team stood for. It takes a lot of courage to play through a situation that could be emotionally crippling and hard on your morale. These ladies pushed through and did what they always do when things get tough:
They never gave up.
This series is dedicated to Coach Jack, her staff, and all of the student athletes. The amount of dedication and hard work you all put in is truly amazing. Thank you for some of the most exciting memories a sports fan could have.