Prior to tonight's home matchup with St. Bonaventure, the UB Women's Basketball team had gone 11 days without a game of any sort and over three weeks without playing in Alumni Arena.
Given that time away, you can never be sure quite what's going to happen at tip. Unfortunately for the Bulls, the easiest comparison is the men's game against their Olean counterparts a few weeks ago. On that night it took Buffalo a long time to get going, and though they played the Bonnies even in the second half the hole was too big to dig out of.
Tonight was a different story, as Coach Jack's team was able to claw its way back into things at the halftime break for an 18-18 draw on the way to an eventual 51-44 victory that snapped a 22-game Western New York winning streak from the Bonnies.
With Bonaventure returning four starters from the team that topped UB in overtime last year, it looked initially to be another good game, though Coach Jack sent out a different starting five than her usual. Guard Mackenzie Loesing has been shooting under 20% the last few games, and that combined with the improving play of Camera Miley found her a spot on the bench at tip. Postgame, Jack called it a "matchup decision," but I'm not buying it. When Loesing is on, she can play with anyone. She just hasn't been for nearly a month now.
Either way, it took a while for anything to work for UB. The Bonnies boast three forwards at 6'1" and controlled the glass early while also keeping the Bulls from getting really any clear looks at the basket. When Alexus Malone finally got the Bulls on the board after 13 opening points from the visitors, she managed seven straight to begin a protracted Bulls run that would ultimately draw UB even with the visitors, even if it took ten more minutes.
There's really not much good to say about the first half, which ended with the teams tied at 18. I am a big fan of women's basketball and think that fans who dismiss it because it doesn't look like the men's game are in error. The first half today was not one you want to showcase. Fortunately in that regard, it was a somewhat small crowd despite the Big Four matchup and a large traveling contingent from Olean.
At the break UB was led by Malone's 7 points and continued to struggle with the Bonnies' size up front, losing the rebounding advantage 22-17. Coach Jack's active, pressure defense held SBU to just 5 points over the final 12 minutes, and the Bulls managed four three pointers.
Bonaventure was once again able to test UB early in the second, opening up 26-22 and 32-25 leads. A series of great hustle plays from Karin Moss and Loesing, as well as post work from Malone brought UB even at 34, but the sophomore picked up her fourth foul on a technical foul moments later, and the teams looked to be in a tight battle heading into the final five minutes.
When Coach Jack sent Malone back out a few minutes late, she simply took over the game, with a number of big rebounds on the defensive end and frankly, one of the longest threes I've ever seen in Alumni Arena to extend UB's newfound lead to 44-40. After that, it became a free throw battle, and UB hit them, along with several clutch layups from Rachael Gregory to keep the Bonnies at arm's length, all while the visitors were really unable to draw any fouls themselves.
Saint Bonaventure Head Coach Jim Crowley frequently used the word "tentative" and focused on his team's 27 turnovers, but noted especially the big swing of Malone's three; "It was just kind of who was going to make it a two-possession game, and that did it," and the poor offensive play; "It would have been fool's gold if we got a win today."
For the second straight game, the Bulls found their stride after a change on the defensive end. Coach Jack noted postgame that there's a lot of familiarity between the two rivals, and she was hoping to use a 1-3-1 zone defense to surprise the Bonnies.
Certainly that call helped in the first half, as Bonaventure scored just five points in the twelve minutes after the switch, and only ten points after Coach Jack made a similar move at about the same time in the second. Crowley also noted those swings in each half; "I thought at the start of both halves our defense really led to our offense. We were getting stops, we got pace and tempo and really put pressure on them before they could set that defense."
Christa Baccas quietly finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds, passed 200 career blocks and 700 career rebounds tonight, while Malone once again hit double figures with 15 points and 10 boards. For a program that has had a strong line o fpost players dating all the way back to Heather Turner, the Bulls have almost an embarrassment of riches up front this year when you add Kristen Sharkey to Baccas and Malone. Baccas in particular praised the work of new assistant coach Blake Dudonis:
"He's a very straightforward guy; he tells you how it is and what you're doing right and wrong. Even in practice he's the up, energy guy, just like Coach Jack."
On a team scale, Buffalo struggled on the glass, finishing with 33 rebounds, well below both St. Bonaventure and their season average. They did however, play one of their cleanest games of the year, committing just 19 personal fouls while generating 15 steals and holding SBU to 0-11 from three point range.
The Bulls will turn around quickly now that exams are over, though they have finished their home nonconference slate. They're back in action this Friday at Manhattan, which is located in the Bronx. Tipoff is concurrent with the men's game, at 7:00 PM.