A race to the end
Women’s basketball faces must-win game Saturday
Sophomore guard Mackenzie Loesing puts up a floater during the women’s basketball team’s game Wednesday against Akron. Loesing finished with 18 points, but the Bulls fell, 79-71. Yusong Shi, The Spectrum
The fourth and final automatic spot to the Mid-American Conference Tournament quarterfinals remains up for grabs.
With a Buffalo victory and Western Michigan (13-16, 8-9 MAC) loss, the Bulls would have punched their ticket to Cleveland, Ohio. Losses by both teams, however, keep Toledo (14-14, 9-8 MAC) and Ball State (13-15, 8-9 MAC) in the race.
The Akron Zips (20-8, 14-3 MAC) defeated the Bulls (16-12, 9-8 MAC), 79-71, at Alumni Arena Wednesday night. The Bulls still control their own destiny for the No. 4 seed, but a loss Saturday would likely cost Buffalo this position. Saturday's final matchup becomes about as "must-win" as it gets.
The top four teams have an automatic bye until at least Thursday in Cleveland. Every other team must play Monday at the better seed's home court and Wednesday in Cleveland - forcing a team to win five games in one week to capture a MAC Championship, rather than just two (top two seeds) or three (seeds three and four).
Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack doesn't want her team thinking about the rest of the conference.
"If we stay locked into who we are and what we are trying to do, we don't have to worry about nobody else," Legette-Jack said.
Akron entered the game as the MAC's highest-scoring team (83.4 points per game) and is currently on a 13-game winning streak. Its offensive firepower was on display when the teams met in February, which resulted in a 101-92 Zips victory.
The Bulls were able to slow down the Akron offense Wednesday, allowing only 79 points, but the Zips still shot 45.9 percent from the field.
The Zips' Rachel Tecca, the conference's leading scorer, recorded 23 points and 15 rebounds, and Hanna Luburgh, who ranks second in the MAC in scoring, added 20. Akron held a distinct advantage on the boards, outrebounding Buffalo 48-31 in the game.
The women's basketball team has lost its last nine contests with Akron and its last victory came in 2011. It hasn't defeated the Zips in Alumni Arena since 2009. The Zips knocked the Bulls out of the MAC Tournament in 2012 and 2013.
"We are going to have our day soon," Legette-Jack said. "We are going to remember all of these moments."
Junior forward Kristen Sharkey had another impressive game against the Zips. After scoring 26 points against Akron in last year's conference tournament and 30 points in the 101-92 loss, she totaled 20 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday.
"I think it's just playing to win, just being there for my teammates," Sharkey said. "I know they have a big post presence in Rachel Tecca and we need to match that."
A missed free throw rarely proves to be a turning point with 13 minutes remaining, but the Bulls climbed back into the game because of such a play.
Freshman forward Alexus Malone went to the foul line with the Bulls trailing 52-41. She made the first shot, but missed the second, and the rebound hit off an Akron player and rolled out of play. Buffalo's offense capitalized and cut the lead to 52-48 less than a minute later.
Buffalo's momentum continued as it tied the game at 56 with 9:17 remaining. The Bulls gained their first lead of the second half after sophomore guard Mackenzie Loesing was fouled on a 3-pointer with 6:38 remaining. Loesing hit all three free throws to take a 61-59 lead and hit the game's next points over a minute later to extend the lead to four.
But a 3-pointer from Luburgh with 1:56 remaining reclaimed the Zips' lead and they never lost it. Akron finished the game on a 12-4 run.
Senior point guard Margeaux Gupilan had 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and five assists. Loesing struggled beyond the arc - shooting 1 for 10 - but finished with 18 points.
The Bulls' final game falls on Senior Day for Gupilan, guard Jenna Rickan and forward Cherridy Thornton.
"I feel like I've been here forever, but it's just a great moment," said Rickan, a first-year transfer who had seven points, five assists and three blocks in the loss. "I've experienced Senior Day once playing soccer [at Syracuse], but it's just such a different atmosphere, such a different team and I'm just thankful to be here and finish up the season and go into post [season] play."
The Bulls host Kent State (7-21, 4-13 MAC) Saturday at Alumni Arena. Toledo, Western Michigan and Ball State also play Saturday. The Bulls' game starts at noon, and the men's game will follow.
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