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The Rise of JoAnna Smith: Poised for a final push to cap off a triumphant collegiate career

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Photo courtesy of UB Athletics

Seldom do college basketball fans get the chance to count on the dominance of a single player like JoAnna Smith. Now in her final semester of eligibility at Buffalo, Smith has already asserted herself as one of the best to ever don the blue and white. But, as she’d probably tell you, there’s still work to be done.

Instead of getting caught up in the fact that she only has at the very least eight games remaining in her collegiate career, let’s appreciate how much of an asset she is to Buffalo and how much fans take the dominance she provides for granted. Smith is a one of a kind player who helped change the culture of UB’s Women’s Hoops program and without her, there is absolutely no way that the Bulls win a Mid-American Conference championship last year.

Getting interest from the high majors in high school, Smith broke her right femur and schools naturally backed out. Buffalo wasn’t one of those schools. The Bulls kept in touch and the patience Coach Felisha Legette-Jack and her staff had in the process was duly awarded. Coincidentally enough, Smith is now the only remaining piece of that recruiting class Jack brought in and she’s become the focal point of Buffalo’s offense.

To say she’s the hardest worker on this year’s team is an understatement. Smith always seems to be working on her craft in Alumni’s main gym and that’s what helps set her apart from the competition. On my way to a workout in Alumni’s fitness center, I’ve often walked past open arena doors and found a determined Smith drilling threes like no tomorrow.

Last season, Smith stepped into a large role that needed to be filled and she gracefully succeeded. She lead the Bulls with an outstanding 18.3 points per game and took a roster loaded with freshmen and sophomores to a program-first NCAA Tournament. The 2015-16 edition of the Bulls had its bumps along the way, but Smith’s dominance was a constant in the ever-changing formula throughout the season.

What’s often overlooked from that campaign is that Smith lead the team in rebounding — the stat that helped the Bulls win so many games in the late going — with 6.1 a contest. With all this success, Bulls fans have surely took for granted how much they were able to count on her to put up an impressive effort.

She started off this year slow, but it might be that she didn’t need to carry the offense in the early going, for this is such a deep bench that UB wields. But once conference play rolled around, she arguably rose to a new level that surpasses that of last year.

29, 26, 27, 6, and 31.

Above are the last five scoring outputs that Smith has reeled in for Buffalo. The six point effort was an extreme rarity against a Toledo team that has UB figured out this season, but aside from that, Smith has been the synonym to the word ‘dominance’. Only once in the year prior did she pass the 26 point mark in scoring and that was when she achieved her career high of 31 for the first time in a buzzer-beating loss to Northern Illinois.

Look past the fact that she’s scoring so much and you’ll also see something that bodes even greater for her professional basketball aspirations. Put the Toledo outing aside and the difference from last year is easy to see. It was common to see Smith shoot 30-31% en route to her 20 point performances last year but the numbers in MAC play at this current moment are so much better. For the second time in three games, she has shot 55% or better from the floor and it’s much more common to see her shoot in the 40-45% range now than ever. She’s simply a better player than a year ago.

As Buffalo continues to find the consistency needed for its second-ever MAC Championship, Smith will surely be at the forefront of the effort. What she’s done for a program on the ropes when Coach Jack first came in is an effort irreplaceable. As she continues to rain threes in Alumni with uncanny ease, take a second and think to yourself how this isn’t normal. You are witnessing one of the biggest pieces that helped take Buffalo Women’s Basketball from the gutter to relevance.

Enjoy the show while it’s still here, folks.