Find the light
Women's team has a golden opportunity Ð will they seize it?
Championship or bust.
Did you ever think these three words would describe a Buffalo women’s basketball season?
I sure didn’t. But hey, aren’t these the three words you want to hear about the teams you affiliate with?
Let’s begin with a little history lesson. Before Felisha Legette-Jack took over as Buffalo’s head coach, the Bulls won just 17 conference games in the previous four seasons.
They’ve won 18 MAC contests in the past two years.
This isn’t the kind of turnaround you expect from a new head coach – or at least most head coaches. But Legette-Jack has proven she’s different. She brought Hofstra from a nine-win team to an NIT berth in four seasons. Then, she went on to coach at Indiana (the home of college basketball, if you ask me.)
But Indiana fired Legette-Jack after six seasons. Three months later, she became Athletic Director Danny White’s first hire at UB. And the coach doesn’t forget the opportunity White gave her, thanking him as often as she possibly can.
But it should be White thanking Legette-Jack.
She has made an irrelevant program into a preseason MAC East favorite in three seasons.
Buffalo received eight of 12 votes to win the MAC East in this season’s coaches poll. It’s the first time the Buffalo’s women’s squad has been picked to win its division.
What Legette-Jack has done in her first two seasons is nothing short of phenomenal. Buffalo won just nine total games and four conference games the season before her hire.
And now, it’s time for the Bulls to take another step.
As junior guard Mackenzie Loesing said, “we were predicted to win the MAC East and that means nothing unless we make it mean something.”
In my column last season, I wrote about how the Bulls needed to significantly improve for the 2013-14 season to be considered a success. They did. Buffalo went from 12 to 17 victories and earned a double-bye in the MAC Tournament.
And fittingly, the expectations rise again this season. Senior forward Kristen Sharkey and Loesing are arguably the two best players in the conference. Senior forward Christa Baccas could be poised for a Defensive Player of the Year award. Sophomore forward Alexus Malone has a full-year of experience and junior guard Karin Moss is an incredible ball handler.
And don’t let me forget, sophomore guard/forward/whatever you need her to be that day Rachael Gregory returns to the court for the Bulls.
There’s not a better top-six in the conference.
The Bulls’ loveable underdog stage is over. They are now the team. If you had asked me in September which Buffalo team had the best chance at winning a MAC title, I would have told you the women’s basketball team without hesitation.
But how will the Bulls respond to being “the chased,” rather than the chaser?
After last season’s MAC quarterfinals loss, Legette-Jack was surprisingly chipper. And looking back now, it’s clear that it’s because she had moved on to the 2014-15 season.
This is the Bulls’ year to take home their first MAC championship. Despite being picked to win the MAC East, Buffalo received just one vote in the coaches poll to win the overall MAC championship – it shouldn’t take too many brain cells to realize who that vote came from.
“We’re the favorite for me every year, wherever I’m at,” Legette-Jack said.
There’s one major difference this season though. Legette-Jack has a legitimate reason to believe it this season.
“I knew that 80 percent of my offense was coming back. I knew that 80 percent of my kids were coming back and I have really good kids,” Legette-Jack said.
That’s something else you have to get used to when speaking with Legette-Jack. The phrase “my kids.” She views the girls who come though her program as her own children.
Legette-Jack said the difference between this year’s team and last year’s is that “the light turned on” during the offseason.
“You know sometimes when you are walking around a room and it’s dark and you are like feeling around,” Legette-Jack said. “You know where everything is, you know where everything belongs, but the lights aren’t on, then the light turns on. The light turned on.”
The analogy may be long, but it’s simple: The Bulls have a MAC Championship in the room.
All they need to do is locate the switch.