UB women’s basketball defense leads way for season-opening victory

Buffalo allows just 38 points to LIU Brooklyn

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It took one half for the women’s basketball team to realize what’s going to be its biggest asset for the 2015-16 season.

A lockdown defense.

Despite a less-than-stellar offensive performance, the Bulls (1-0) picked up a season-opening 55-38 victory over LIU Brooklyn (0-1) on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena. Buffalo shot less than 40 percent from the field, but was relieved by a stellar defensive performance. The 38 points allowed are the fewest for Buffalo since Feb. 23, 2013.

“The game is an example of who we are this year,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “We’re going to defend the ball. I think that if we recognize that’s who we’re going to be, then the offense is going to come a lot easier for us.”

LIU Brooklyn scored the first two points of the day and held a lead for less than a minute and a half before the Bulls took the lead and kept it for the remainder of the game. The Bulls took 15 more shots than Blackbirds due to Buffalo’s punishing and relentless defense that forced 31 turnovers.

But Saturday also exposed some of Buffalo’s flaws.

Buffalo accumulated the same amount of rebounds (34) as its opponent. Legette-Jack wasn’t content with the forwards’ energy and aggressiveness getting to the rim on offense, but said it will come with time.

“They’re going to get better,” Legette-Jack said. “What I need them to do is go after the rebound with aggression … This is a fun challenge for me. This is a post coach’s dream to have all post players that have no experience.”

Freshman forward Mirte Scheper scored seven points and grabbed four rebounds in her Bulls debut. The first-year player is excited about the Buffalo system and acknowledged the team will get better with time.

But there were sparks of energy on offense, particularly in the first half. The Bulls got off to a quick start with a 13-0 run beginning just a minute and a half into the game and ending with 4:18 left in the first quarter.

Junior guard Joanna Smith scored six of her team-high 15 points during that stretch. But it was an average game for Smith despite the scoring total. She shot just 6 of 19 and 3 of 13 from beyond the arc.

“It just wasn’t on,” Smith said about her 3-point shot. “But I’m a shooter and I have to keep shooting whether it goes in or not. The more I shoot, the more it opens up for us offensively. So, just keep shooting.”

Legette-Jack isn’t concerned about her spot-up shooter. She noted every shooter has a day where their shots go in the basket and days where they don’t. She continued to praise her Smith, even calling her the “Steph Curry of the team.”

Sophomore guard Stephanie Reid also added six points, but also added six assists and five steals.

Her most notable stretch of the day was toward the end of the first half with Buffalo leading only by three. Reid forced a steal and found sophomore forward Mariah Suchan for an easy layup. Just 12 seconds later, Reid came up with another steal and delivered a perfect pass to Suchan near the basket, who then put it in to extend Buffalo’s lead.

“I thought she did a lot of good things,” Jack said. “She was the general of the floor. She was the head to our body. She never got rattled. She took a couple shots that I thought she could have gotten.”

The Bulls had 11 players see the court on Saturday, nine of which saw at least 13 minutes of action. Legette-Jack is still figuring out her rotation, but insists she is confident in her starting five of Reid, Smith, Scheper and sophomore guards Liisa and Katherine Ups and will continue to roll with that lineup.

Legette-Jack wants to see more action out of Liisa, who was held without a shot. Legette-Jack said Liisa will not go another game without taking a shot.

As for the rest of the rotation players, it will be who wants it more.

“We’re not looking to experiment. We’re trying to win,” Legette-Jack said. “Why can’t we play 15? How you challenge the person in front of you in practice will determine if you’re going to play. I do have favorites. The favorite person is the person getting the job done.”

Buffalo continues its season on Tuesday at Alumni Arena in a Big-4 matchup against Canisius (0-1). Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jordanmgrossman.