UB Bulls defeat Golden Flashes 68-58 on Saturday

Bulls lead wire-to-wire, secure first round bye in MAC Tournament

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The women’s basketball team’s lack of energy in the first half of Saturday’s game made head coach Felisha Legette-Jack think the team wasn’t ready for the upcoming Mid-American Conference Tournament.

But the second half proved to Legette-Jack why Buffalo deserved its first-round bye in next week’s tournament.

The Bulls (18-11, 11-7 Mid-American Conference) defeated Kent State (5-24, 3-15 MAC) 68-58 in Kent, Ohio. The Bulls secured their first 18-win season since the 2002-2003 campaign as they led wire-to-wire. The win also earned the team a No. 4 seed in next week’s MAC Tournament, which automatically gives it a bye to the quarterfinals.

“I didn’t like our synergy creating energy in the first half,” Legette-Jack said. “We were doing fine, but we could’ve been better. We weren’t playing together and our defense suffered a little bit. Offensively we were a tad sloppy and while we got stops on the defensive end, we could’ve been much better.”

Despite Legette-Jack’s disapproval of the team’s first half play, the Bulls finished with 31 points. Senior forward Kristen Sharkey finished with nine points and three rebounds, while junior guard Mackenzie Loesing added nine points and one rebound. The duo also went a combined 3-for-5 from beyond the arc.

Where the Bulls were sloppy was turnovers. The Bulls finished the first half with just five assists and 10 turnovers, drawing the ire of Legette-Jack.

“Again, that’s where I was most disappointed with the team,” Legette-Jack said. “We had a couple of silly, avoidable turnovers. Our mistakes turned that game into a close game heading into the half.”

Not much changed in the second half, as the Bulls had 12 turnovers and only five assists. However, the offense changed, as it went away from Sharkey and Loesing and went through sophomore forward Alexus Malone and sophomore guard Joanna Smith.

The duo of Smith and Malone combined for 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting after halftime. Legette-Jack said that both have been crucial for the team’s success, giving the Bulls a stronger presence on the offensive side of the ball.

“Earlier in the season, both did things that didn’t show in the box score,” Legette-Jack said. “Now, both are getting in a groove offensively. Alexus is providing us with another strong rebounding presence, while Joanna has played some good defense and she’s taking great shots.”

For the Bulls offensive success, the defense is what drove the Bulls to victory. The Bulls got just four steals, but forced seven turnovers and held Kent State to just 32 percent shooting.

Legette-Jack said that it was their defense that helped generate their offense.

“I loved that our defense helped us generate offense,” Legette-Jack said. “In the second half, we pressed them a bit more and that allowed us to run. When you start running and creating shots, it allowed us to get more people in double figures offensively.”

The Bulls finished with four players in double figures. Sharkey finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Smith finished with 15 points. Malone finished with 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Loesing had 12 points and two rebounds. Freshman guard Stephanie Reid was just short of the double digit scoring mark, finishing with eight points, four rebounds and four assists.

As the Bulls regular season ends, they await their opponent for next week’s MAC Tournament. Entering the tournament, Legette-Jack said that the team’s recent play and locker room chemistry will be big for their chances in succeeding in the tournament.

“I like our chances,” Legette-Jack said. “We’re playing better basketball right now and we’re peaking at the right time. I like the unity I see in the locker room, the look in our eyes when we’re out there. Ultimately, we’re going to win with our defense, and we’re looking good.”

The Bulls next game will be in Cleveland, Ohio for the MAC Tournament. Tipoff will begin at noon on Thursday, March 12.

Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com