Out for revenge
Women’s basketball team picks up where its season ended in 2013
Freshman forward Alexus Malone and the women’s basketball team are the No. 4 seed in the MAC tournament. The Bulls will play the winner of the game between Northern Illinois and Ball State Thursday at noon in Cleveland, Ohio. Yusong Shi, The Spectrum
It took the women's basketball team two tournament victories to advance to the Mid-American Conference Quarterfinals last season. This year, thanks to the second 10-win MAC season in program history, Buffalo advances to the quarterfinals without playing a game.
The No. 4 Bulls (17-12, 10-8 MAC) begin their quest toward their first MAC Championship Thursday at noon. Buffalo will face the winner of No. 5 Ball State (15-15, 9-9 MAC) and No. 9 Northern Illinois (11-18, 6-12) at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
"They bought in," said second-year head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. "They bought into the system; they bought into each other and the staff. They believe in what we are trying to do and it's a fun thing when you totally surrender to the system and allow it to transform you."
The top four teams in the conference earn a bye straight to Cleveland. Seeds five through 12 played Monday at the higher seed's home court. The winners face off Wednesday in Cleveland before advancing to the quarterfinals.
"I think it definitely helps," junior forward Kristen Sharkey said about the rest period. "You have a two-game advantage. Other people are going to be a little more fatigued than we are, but whatever situation we are in, we are going to come out and go for it."
Legette-Jack described the MAC Tournament as the fourth part of the season. The first three parts are preseason, non-conference and conference competition. Senior guard Margeaux Gupilan said the team has done a good job of sticking together.
"I think we just stayed real with each other," Gupilan said. "If someone didn't catch a pass, we didn't sulk and cry and get our feelings hurt."
Last season, Buffalo defeated Northern Illinois at home and Miami Ohio in Cleveland before losing to highly favored Akron in a tight game in the quarterfinals.
The Bulls haven't forgotten about their 2013 exit.
"To me, it just feels like we are picking up where we left off last year," Gupilan said. "It's finishing some unfinished business."
The Bulls' 17 wins are the team's most since 2002-03. The last time Buffalo earned 10 MAC wins was in 2000-01, and its No. 4 seed is the best since joining the conference.
Buffalo went a combined 3-0 against Ball State and Northern Illinois during the season. The Bulls won at Ball State, 73-69, with 36 points from Sharkey Jan. 26, and defeated Northern Illinois 63-52 Jan. 23 and 66-57 Feb. 15.
If the Bulls win Thursday, they will face No. 1 Bowling Green (27-3, 17-1 MAC) in the semifinals Friday. The Falcons are currently ranked No. 25 in the country.
Bowling Green's two non-conference losses were to Marist - which clinched an NCAA Tournament berth with a Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship Monday - and Purdue, which is currently ranked No. 17 in the country. Its lone conference loss came in overtime at Central Michigan (20-10, 16-2 MAC).
The top two teams on the other side of the bracket are No. 2 Central Michigan and No. 3 Akron (20-9, 14-4 MAC).
Legette-Jack described defense as her team's mantra and the statistics back up the coach's claim. The Bulls led the conference with 79 blocks - 20 more than the second-best team. The 'D' ranked second in field goal percentage allowed (37 percent) and steals (9.3 per game).
Monday, sophomore guard Mackenzie Loesing and Sharkey earned All-MAC second and third team honors, respectively. Freshman forward Alexus Malone was named to the All-Freshman team.
"By looking back a little bit and reflecting, the record we have right now is indicative of these young ladies coming in, surrounding, trusting and becoming," Legette-Jack said.
Loesing has led the team with 16.5 points per game and 58 steals. Sharkey ranks second with 14.8 points and leads the squad with 8.7 rebounds per game. Gupilan is averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 assists and ranks second with 56 steals.
The Bulls' quarterfinal matchup will be streamed on mac-sports.com for free.
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