There might as well have been no expectations for this year's women's basketball team. A good season probably would've been considered 10 wins. Felisha Legette-Jack had one of the tougher career challenges a basketball coach could be given. Somehow, she needed to mold a group of freshmen and sophomores into a team that could one day compete for a MAC Championship.
In her usual peppy fashion, Coach Jack aimed a step higher. She built a team that was more competitive than any UB Basketball fan could dream of. Anyone that thought this squad would hit the ground running from day one was insane. The style that they made this early season push in is even more unimaginable. As improbable as it should've been, Buffalo won their first six games.
If there was one thing that anyone should expect from a team coached by Felisha Legette-Jack, it was the stingy defense. Astoundingly, this year's team took it to a whole new level in the early going. Buffalo quickly became the number one team in the nation for scoring defense. Six games in, the Bulls were holding opponents to a fearsome 46.3 points per game.
It didn't matter that they were shooting the ball terribly across all facets. It also didn't make a difference that the team had almost 20 turnovers per game. The defense was so suffocating for their opponents that the offense didn't need to be at one hundred percent. A solid trio of contributors on the offense was all UB needed. For the first six games, that trio consisted of Joanna Smith, Stephanie Reid, and Katherine Ups. It was clear after these games that Smith was the best player on the team and that she would be the consistent leader in scoring. She was already shattering what she had done in the previous year of 5.6 points per game.
Although none of the first six opponents finished the season with a winning record, Buffalo had many positive things to take from this. Winning the first six games almost created bigger expectations for a women's team with unpredictable success.
What it Feels like to Lose
Game seven on the season felt like an important one for Buffalo. The Bulls would be facing Hofstra, a team previously coached by Felisha Legette-Jack. It would've been special to win this game. Unfortunately for Buffalo, it just wasn't in the cards.
The women were obliterated in a 79-36 loss where they reached 10 points in a quarter only once. Joanna Smith wasn't her dominant self that she had been. The only other two players to score more than two points were lone senior Karin Moss and freshman Brittany Morrison.
The Hofstra game could've been an outlier, but this wasn't the case. Buffalo ultimately dropped their next two games. Their loss to Duquesne wasn't that strenuous as the Dukes would make it to the NCAA Tournament this year. The loss to St. Bonaventure hurt just a little more. The defense came back for a game and held the Bonnies to under 60 points, but the UB offense couldn't generate any momentum.
The 6-0 run to start the season definitely instilled some false hope into UB fans. This was a group of mostly freshmen and sophomores after all. As a result, inconsistency wouldn't be unsurprising. During this time, the early power trio of Smith, Reid, and Katherine Ups started to erode. Ups' point production slowed after this point of the season. Without a consistent third scoring option, Buffalo was in trouble.
Enter: Cassie Oursler
She was one of the bigger headlines coming into the 2015-16 season. Cassie Oursler had experience no other player on the current roster had. The Robert Morris University transfer made an impact as a player on a team that made it to the NCAA tournament. Oddly enough, RMU's program was headed by former UB head coach Sal Buscaglia.
Oursler wanted to return home, and it just so happened that Buffalo wasn't that far from it. The Grand Island native was named Western New York Player of the Year after her senior season in high school. After the successful high school career, Oursler went to play for the Colonials where she averaged 7.4 points per game and 5 points in a Northeastern Conference Championship run. Cassie would ultimately have to sit out a year until she could play for the Bulls after transferring, but she couldn't have came at a better time in the season. Another scoring option was needed badly in the front court.
When she was needed most, Oursler didn't disappoint. In her debut donning the blue and white, the transfer set the bar high. In Buffalo's final non-conference game versus Sacred Heart, she put up a double-double in 20 minutes of play. UB now had a third option to go along with the Joanna Smith and Stephanie Reid show.
Buffalo finished their non-conference schedule with an 8-3 record. With MAC play around the corner, the Bulls were back on a winning track after defeating Big-4 rival Niagara and Sacred Heart. The abysmal outlook the season started with now had a much more positive twist. The women's basketball team had already surpassed expectations and at this point they were playing with house money. Only time could tell if the Bulls' fortunes would continue.