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UB basketball preview: men look to start winning streak, women look to end losing streak

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Men’s basketball (11-9, 4-3 Mid-American Conference)

Throughout the regular season, head coach Nate Oats has preached about wanting to play better on the defensive side of the ball.

On Tuesday, the Bulls listened.

In a 76-64 victory over Ball State (13-7, 4-3 MAC), Buffalo held the Cardinals to 22 percent shooting from three and forced 19 turnovers.

The ability to force bad shots and errors was something Oats enjoyed seeing from his team.

“I liked the fact our ball pressure was really good,” Oats said. “I thought [Lamonte Bearden] picked them up at half court and created havoc on their offense, trying to make them run offense. Thought [Jarryn Skeete] did a good job … when you have your guards playing that hard, I feel like it filters through the whole team when you get your captains playing that hard, some of our players fed off that.”

On Saturday, the Bulls will need Bearden and Skeete to play much of the same as they travel to Toledo, Ohio to face the Rockets (12-8, 3-4 MAC).

Toledo is coming off back-to-back losses against Northern Illinois (16-4, 5-2 MAC) and Ohio (12-7, 3-4 MAC). The Rockets currently lead the MAC in both scoring offense and assists, with their duo of guards Jonathan Williams and Stuckey Mosley and center Nathan Boothe are carrying them in major offensive categories.

“Different than Ball State,” Oats said of Toledo, “they have a really good big they can feed it to a lot, we have to eliminate a lot of touches and good looks for Boothe, and they have Williams who can score it very well and they have Mosley. They have a big three and all are a bit different offensively.”

While the guard play is something the Bulls can control based on their previous game, Boothe is a player the Bulls may have trouble defending. Boothe is currently averaging 19.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists, while shooting 41 percent from three-point range as a six-foot-nine center.

Oats said that the team’s big men will have a tough day defending him and he will have to mix up coverages against him.

While Oats was thinking defense, Bearden was interested in the offensive attack. While admitting he’s not 100 percent yet from a foot and ankle injury, the sophomore guard still plans to work on attacking and getting into the lane against the Rocket’s defense.

“It’s still working on getting into the lane,” Bearden said. “Sometimes, that shot is there and I take it, other times, a defender will come over, come out of position and that’s when we make the quick pass and try to find the open shooter.”

The Bulls will be on the road for their next two games, as they play Toledo on Saturday and Northern Illinois (16-3, 5-1 MAC) on Tuesday. The road has been a mixed bag for the Bulls, as they’ve went just 4-7 on it, but did pick up an important victory over Kent State (15-5, 6-1 MAC). Buffalo’s win over Kent State was the only loss the Golden Flashes suffered in conference play so far.

For Oats, it’s continuing to improve and build upon consistent play that will lead to success for the Bulls on the road.

“There’s no team in conference that can’t win on the road,” Oats said. “We can’t win the conference going .500. I’ve been telling our guys that. We had a good win against Kent State and their 6-1 with us as their only loss. We just have to be more consistent without effort on the road.”

Tipoff for Saturday is set for 7 p.m. and will be available on ESPN3.

Women’s basketball (10-8, 2-5 MAC)

The Bulls want to take it one game at a time.

Earlier in the regular season, Buffalo looked to be on the right track. The team was 10-4 with back-to-back victories in conference play. Junior guard Joanna Smith was playing well, sophomore guard Stephanie Reid shined and the Bulls looked like a tough matchup heading into the long haul of conference play.

Then they lost four in a row.

“I think we just have to work harder,” said junior center Cassie Oursler. “We have the parts. I think one issue is that we were very, very focused on defense and we’ve let slip up a bit. Over the last several practices, we’ve been more focused on improving our defensive focus and if that works, it’ll definitely lead to better offense.”

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack was not available for an interview.

Against Toledo (8-11, 1-7 MAC) on Saturday, however, the Bulls have a chance to get back on track.

The Huskies are 11th in the MAC in scoring defense, allowing 69.4 points per game – a welcomed sight for a Bulls team that ranks 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 59.1 points per game.

Buffalo’s offense has been struggling, as its scored more than 63 points just once during the losing streak. The 58 points in Buffalo’s last loss to Miami Ohio (8-10, 2-5 MAC) were the second fewest points scored by the Bulls in conference play and was the eighth time they failed to crack the 60-point plateau this season.

When asked about what the team needs to do to get out of its recent funk, Smith bluntly said “score.”

“We just have to come out there and do better on offense,” Smith said. “We have to begin to put the ball in the basket. I really think that’s where some of the problems are – we can’t score the basketball. If we can put together better offensive games, shooting the ball better and gaining more confidence on offense, we know we can defend, and we’ll began to turn some of these games into wins.”

If the offense is going to get in check, Buffalo will need players like Smith and Oursler, who have been two of the bright spots for the Bulls this season.

Smith currently leads the Bulls in points per game with 17.9, while Oursler has averaged 8.0 points and 7.5 rebounds, offering the Bulls a offensive player in the low post since entering the Bulls’ starting lineup on Dec. 29.

It won’t get any easier for Buffalo after taking on the Huskies – as they host MAC-leading Ohio (16-3, 8-0 MAC) at Alumni Arena Wednesday night. Ohio boasts the top defense (58.6 points per game) in the MAC and the third best offense (71.7 points per game) and defeated Buffalo in the MAC Tournament Semifinals last season.

Despite the team’s disappointing 2-5 conference record, Smith still reiterates the team’s desire of winning the MAC Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio come March as the ultimate goal for the rest of the season.

“Getting to Cleveland and winning it all,” Smith said. “That’s the main goal, and I’m sure it’s the goal for everyone on this team. We’re down, but I think we can still put it together and finish strong.”

Tipoff for Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois is set for 2 p.m. in DeKalb, Illinois.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HaynesTheWriter.


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