A team effort

Bulls increase win total from 12 to 17 despite battling injuries

By OWEN O'BRIEN
On March 25, 2014

  • Junior forward Christa Baccas (44) finished second in the MAC in blocked shots (39). The Buffalo ‘D’ led the conference with 79 blocks and finished second in field goal defense (37 percent). Yusong Shi, The Spectrum

When the Buffalo women's basketball team began its 2013-14 season, it expected to have 14 players who could contribute. Midway through conference play, that number had dwindled to nine.

Despite the injuries, the Bulls (17-13, 10-8 Mid-American Conference) finished with the program's most wins since 2002-03 and their second 10-win MAC season since 2000-01. They finished fourth in the conference in the regular season - the team's highest finish ever.

Senior forward Cherridy Thornton, junior guard Sloane Walton and freshman guard Camera Miley all suffered season-ending injuries. Freshman guard Nia Roberts decided to return home to Florida early in the season and sophomore guard Rachael Gregory was out the entire season after suffering a torn ACL last season.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said she believes her team got stronger as the year went on, even with losing impactful players. She watched players emerge, like junior forward Kristen Sharkey, senior guard Jenna Rickan, freshman forward Alexus Malone and sophomore guard Karin Moss, to play more minutes than expected.

"Those kind of things made us think good things were going to happen to this team because different people keep evolving into being not just good, but great on particular days," Legette-Jack said.

Some moments that immediately jumped out to Legette-Jack as she reflected on the season: Moss' coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer in a 58-56 victory over Miami Ohio and senior guard Margeaux Gupilan's six 3-pointers in the same contest.

The Bulls began conference play with three losses before a 51-46 victory over Toledo. It was their first win over the Rockets since 2008.

"The real game that we showed that we were somebody significant and we are going to fight to the end is when we beat Toledo at home," Legette-Jack said. "We hadn't beaten Toledo in, I don't know, forever."

This was the first of six consecutive victories for Buffalo.

The Bulls split their final four games heading into the MAC Tournament in Cleveland, Ohio. Last season, Buffalo had to play two games before advancing to the quarterfinals. Because of their No. 4 seed this year, the Bulls received a bye straight to the quarterfinals - where they met Ball State.

Ball State eliminated the Bulls, 74-60, mostly due to a poor shooting performance from Buffalo. The squad shot especially poorly from beyond the arc - 7 for 32 (21.9 percent). Bad shooting from deep hindered the Bulls throughout the season.

"We have to address that we shot the ball the worst in the conference from the three-point line," Legette-Jack said. "We have to get our guards better in the shooting category. This is the [first time] I've ever been a part of a team that shot this poorly."

One thing Legette-Jack wants to take from this season is the depth the Bulls showed.

"I don't ever say we have 'go-to' players," Legette-Jack said. "Everybody kept trying to twist my arm to promote only Kristen Sharkey and Mackenzie Loesing, then if I did that we would have never discovered Alexus Malone."

Loesing and Sharkey finished as second- and third-team All-MAC players, respectively. Malone finished as a member of the All-Freshman team.

Legette-Jack is already excited about next season, specifically for incoming freshman guard Destiny Woodard from Florida, who "doesn't think she's supposed to miss," according to Legette-Jack.

This was the second straight season the women's basketball team lost in the quarterfinals.

The Bulls have increased their win total from nine to 12 to 17 in the past three seasons - with Legette-Jack at the helm the past two seasons. The next step is extending their visit in Cleveland.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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