UB Bulls women's basketball defeat Western Michigan, advance to MAC semifinals

Buffalo to play No. 1 Ohio Friday

womens_game_story

CLEVELAND, OHIO – It may have only been Stephanie Reid’s 18th college basketball game, but you would have never known by her demeanor at the free-throw line. With 23 seconds remaining in a Mid-American Conference tournament quarterfinals contest, the game was in the hands of a freshman.

With the Bulls up by one point, Reid, a freshman guard, assured senior forward Kristen Sharkey that she was going to make both of her free throws.

She was correct.

Reid sank both free throws to give Buffalo a three-point lead. Sophomore guard Joanna Smith pulled down the final rebound of the game as Western Michigan’s Meredith Shipman missed the desperation three with a few seconds remaining.

The No. 4 Bulls (19-11, 12-7 Mid-American Conference) defeated No. 5 Western Michigan (20-12, 11-8 MAC), 63-60, in the quarterfinals of the MAC Tournament at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. Buffalo faces No. 1 Ohio Friday at noon in the semifinals. It’s only the second time the women’s basketball team has advanced to the MAC semifinals.

Sharkey finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-of-20 shooting and a game-high 13 rebounds in the victory.

“It’s about our story,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “We’ve come here too many times and no one knows who Kristen Sharkey is. No one knows about Buffalo women’s basketball. They shouldn’t know about us until we make them.”

Buffalo’s previous two seasons ended in quarterfinal losses at Quickens Loan Arena.

Although Sharkey was named Player of the Game, Reid put up a convincing case for the honor as well. The freshman finished with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and three assists. But it was her intangibles that made her so effective at the end of the game.

With 4:25 left, Reid hit the first of a one-and-one from the foul line and missed the second but tracked down her own miss and called a timeout to keep possession for Buffalo. Two minutes later, she hit a 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining to break a 54-54 tie.

“She’s one of the best freshmen in this conference,” Legette-Jack said. “We got her late, but sometimes you get lucky. My staff does a great job scouring the country, but the head of our team comes from Melbourne, Australia.”

Western Michigan scored the first six points of the game but a Sharkey layup propelled the Bulls to a 10-0 run over the next 3:38. The Bulls expanded their lead to as much as seven points nearly 3 minutes later.

But the Broncos responded with another 6-0 run, shortening their deficit to one point with 7:32 left in the half. The Bulls ended the half shooting 32.5 percent from the field, but ended the game shooting nearly 38 percent for the game.

“We executed offensively better than we usually do,” Sharkey said. “But we had to stay composed. We didn’t rush anything and we took the shots that were given to us.”

Buffalo accumulated 47 rebounds in Thursday’s victory – 11 more than the Broncos. The Bulls also grabbed 20 offensive boards leading to 16 second-chance points. Western Michigan had only eight offensive rebounds.

Three Bulls grabbed eight or more rebounds in the win - one of whom was Smith, a guard. Smith and Reid combined for 13 rebounds.

“It’s who we are,” Legette-Jack said. “It’s who we are trying to become. It’s not just Sharkey, Christa and Alexus doing the work defensively to get the boards. It’s about us as a team. If we continue to stay together and do more to share and not care who gets the credit, great things can happen.”

Buffalo was plagued by foul trouble throughout the game. Senior forward Christa Baccas recorded two fouls within the first five minutes of the game and sat out the rest of the first half. Sophomore forward Alexus Malone picked up three fouls, all of which came within the first 21 minutes of the game. Malone was limited to only 19 minutes.

Sharkey finished the game with four fouls. To prevent from fouling out of the game, senior forward Christa Baccas began guarding Western Michigan forward Miracle Woods. Woods, who ranks ninth in the conference with 14.5 points, finished with a game-high 27 points and hit 9 of 10 free-throws.

“Miracle was a special player,” Legette-Jack said. “You can’t stop her, but you hope to contain her.”

Smith finished with eight points, eight rebounds and a steal. Baccas added six points and nine rebounds.

With the win, the Bull advance to the semifinals of the MAC tournament to play No. 1 Ohio (25-4, 14-2 MAC) Friday. The winner of that game advances to the finals, which will be held Saturday at 1 p.m.

But Legette-Jack isn’t worrying with the finals yet. She is concerned with getting past what she said is the “unanimous” best team in the conference. Ohio defeated Buffalo twice during the regular season.

“I think they represent our conference very well,” Legette-Jack said. “They are unanimously the No. 1 team in this conference. I love the way coach runs his system. He’s not the biggest or fastest team, but they are an efficient kind of team ... I have respect for them, but like my brother always tells me, ‘respect all and fear none.”’

Friday’s game is set for 12 p.m. and will be aired on ESPN3 and Time Warner Cable Sports network.

Jordan Grossman is a senior sports editor and can be contacted at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com