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UB women's basketball players Stephanie Reid and Joanna Smith set out to take the MAC by storm

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UB women’s basketball managed to pull off several upsets on their way to a Mid-American Conference Championship and NCAA tournament berth last year. They were behind arguably the best backcourt in the MAC.

That backcourt, consisting of junior point guard Stephanie Reid and senior shooting guard Joanna Smith, will once again determine how far UB (2-0) can go this season. Reid and Smith have another year of experience together under their belt and hope to both lead the team back to the NCAA Tournament and win a game when they get there.

After Smith became the full-time starting shooting guard last season, the two had to learn how to work together, despite being polar opposites.

Reid is from Australia; Smith is from Missouri. Reid excels most when finding her teammates, Smith is a lethal scorer. Reid is bubbly and a vocal leader, Smith is intense and leads by example.

If Buffalo is going to continue its progress from last season, head coach Felisha Legette-Jack has made it clear that her two best players must stick together and continue to build chemistry.

“Stephanie is my general, she has the keys to the Mercedes,” Legette-Jack said. “But she better have Joanna in that passenger seat.”

Reid and Smith’s success is no mere accident.

They have worked diligently throughout their time together at UB to find great chemistry. While Reid stepped right into the point guard role upon her arrival in Buffalo from Australia mid-way through the 2014-15 season, Smith spent her first season in Buffalo coming off the bench. She worked her way into the starting lineup as a sophomore before finally breaking out last year.

Smith was a hot commodity out of high school for her ability to create her own shot, but a break in her right femur that required a steal rod deterred some colleges. Smith took it as a challenge and decided to forgo a big name school and instead chose Buffalo to blaze her own trail.

“I was recruited by schools in the ACC and SEC, yet the name of the school matters to me,” Smith said. “I wanted to go to a school that didn’t have much history, to say I brought the first championships. I wanted to give that to Buffalo.”

Last year, no player in the country improved their scoring average more than Smith, who went from 5.6 points per game to 18.3 points per game.

“Joanna was just waiting her turn. When everybody left, all her teammates left, I brought her in last summer and said ‘You got to be the one,’” Legette-Jack said. “We are going to win or lose with Joanna shooting the ball. She embraced that last season and became a dynamic leader and unbelievable scorer.”

Reid and Smith knew they needed to come together last season, despite their obvious differences, once they were both named the starters. They had their share of growing pains early on, according to Legette-Jack, but the two have one major characteristic in common: intensity. And that has brought them together on and off the court.

“They have a poise about themselves, you never see them get all ugly-faced, they never get too high when we are beating people,” Legette-Jack said. “Are they winning or losing? You can’t tell with those two, they have the same poise the whole game. I don’t think they cool down until well into the night.”

Reid and Smith aren’t just close on the court. They have grown close outside the game of basketball. Along with some of her teammates, Smith picked up Reid and teammate Courtney Wilkins from the airport when they first arrived in Buffalo from Australia. At first, Smith was surprised by Reid’s 5-foot-6 frame, but soon learned better than to doubt Reid.

“Looks can be deceiving,” Smith said. “So once she got on the court, I was like “wow, this girl can really go.’”

For Legette-Jack, the opportunity these young women have extends beyond the game. Their production on the court is important, but the way they carry themselves off the court is even more important.

Her philosophy places emphasis on being a good person and a good teammate before you can be a great player – something that has gone a long way in shaping both players in their college careers.

“Honestly, everything about the way [Legette-Jack] coaches, I love,” Reid said. “She’s not just a coach, she’s really like my second mom and she holds us to expectations that not every sport will hold you to… She’s got our back for every aspect of life, it’s not just about basketball to her, it’s about our character and our academics too.”

Legette-Jack’s tough standards may scare some players away, but for the ones who buy-in, they become a family together.

With Smith and Reid now entering this season as captains, they are no longer just a part of the team – they need to be leaders. The two are setting the bar sky-high for both themselves and their teammates.

“I would personally like to go undefeated in conference,” Smith said. “When you go to a D-I school, your goal is to win a conference championship. I already have one, now our goal is to get another and get to the second round of the NCAA.”

Smith and Reid’s teammates have learned to follow the duo’s lead. The two lead in different ways – Reid has a more hands-on approach and Smith lets her play do the talking.

The two leadership styles combined seem to fit just right.

“Steph brings her leadership and confidence and just tells you where to be, where to go, knows everything that’s going on, tells you exactly what you’re supposed to be doing,” said junior center Cassie Oursler. “Jo just brings consistency, she leads by example. She doesn’t really need to do much extra because she’s just showing us how we should be playing, she’s always just working really hard.”

With Reid and Smith at the helm, UB women’s basketball may have the best backcourt in the conference. Both were chosen as the starting guards on the Preseason All-MAC East team in the coach’s poll.

“I think once you see Stephanie and Joanna come out here and do what they do the one time, you are going to be hooked for the season,” Legette-Jack said.

Daniel Petruccelli and Thomas Zafonte are staff writers and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com


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