Locked in at No. 4
Victory over Golden Flashes gives Bulls double bye in MAC Tournament
Junior forward Kristen Sharkey had a strong first half, scoring 13 of the Bulls' 23 points. She finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. The Bulls defeated Kent State 64-51. Yusong Shi, The Spectrum
The Bulls honored their seniors before Saturday’s game. Pictured left to right with their families. guard Jenna Rickan, forward Cherridy Thornton and guard Margeaux Gupilan.
The women's basketball team went into Saturday's game focused on one number: four.
The Bulls headed into Alumni Arena knowing a victory would clinch the fourth seed in next week's Mid-American Conference Tournament and a bye to the quarterfinals.
Buffalo (17-12, 10-8 MAC) defeated Kent State (7-22, 4-14 MAC), 64-51, to clinch the No. 4 seed. Buffalo will play at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, Thursday.
The Bulls' 17 wins are the most for the program since 2002-03. The No. 4 seed in the MAC Tournament is the women's program's highest ever.
Saturday was senior day and Buffalo honored guards Margeaux Gupilan and Jenna Rickan and forward Cherridy Thornton before the game. They walked out surrounded by family to meet head coach Felisha Legette-Jack and Athletic Director Danny White at center court.
Legette-Jack could not hold back her emotions when speaking about her three seniors and what they've meant to the program.
"I just think these young ladies are so special," Legette-Jack said. "I've been coaching for 25 years and this matched the special [2005-06] team at Hofstra. To see how [Gupilan and Rickan] walked off the court - they know how much they transformed this program to see where we are headed."
Buffalo saw an opportunity to establish a tough inside game early on. Junior forward Kristen Sharkey powered Buffalo's 23-19 halftime lead, as she recorded 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed four rebounds before the half. The Bulls outscored Kent State 18-4 in the paint in the first half and 44-18 total in the game.
Sharkey's 13 points were more than the rest of her team combined. No other player on either team scored more than five points in the first half.
Sharkey finished with a game-high 17 points while shooting 8 for 12 and collecting eight rebounds.
Both teams struggled shooting from the field. Combined, the Bulls and the Flashes shot under 36 percent in the first half. Sophomore guard Mackenzie Loesing - UB's leading scorer - was held to four points and 0-of-6 shooting before the break, but she found her stroke in the second half.
The Golden Flashes contained Sharkey more effectively in the second half and Loesing took over the scoring role. Loesing scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half while shooting 5 for 9 from the field.
"It's always important to have a bye, but we put ourselves in great position to do great things this year," Loesing said. "From the beginning of the season, we believed that we could win the MAC Championship and having that bye is just another benefit for our hard work this season. It's going to help us reach that goal of winning that MAC Championship."
The Bulls extended their lead early in the second half, leading by as many as 12 points with just under 11 minutes remaining. Buffalo kept a steady lead for the majority of the half before freshman forward Alexus Malone connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the lead to 15 points with 2:27 remaining.
"It was real important to lock in that four seed and now that we got that four seed we have an easier path," Gupilan said. "We are very grateful for it but we have a lot to work on still. We have a long journey ahead and we are not close to finished."
The Bulls will play on Thursday at noon at Quicken Loans Arena against an opponent that will be determined by games on Monday and Wednesday.
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