UB women’s basketball defeats Bowling Green, in play for double-bye

Smith scores 17, leads Bulls in defensive matchup

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In the three games prior to Wednesday’s matchup, the women’s basketball team scored over 70 points in three straight games for the first time since Nov. 18 – Nov. 25.

Entering halftime of Wednesday night’s game against Bowling Green, the team was tied with the Falcons at 22. But head coach Felisha Legette-Jack didn’t preach offense in the second half – she preached defense.

“I told them ‘don’t let them score,’” Legette-Jack said. “We would love to score 87 points every night, but sometimes, you get into games like this where every possession matters even more.”

In the end, the Bulls (17-11, 10-7 Mid-American Conference) defeated Bowling Green (9-19, 2-15 MAC) 55-47 on Wednesday night in Bowling Green, Ohio. With the win, the Bulls compiled back-to-back winning seasons in the MAC – a feat they haven’t accomplished since the 2000-01 season.

If the MAC Tournament began today, Buffalo would be a No. 5 seed. The Bulls can move up as high as No. 3 and fall as low as No. 7 based on next weekend’s results. Buffalo would receive a double-bye to the quarterfinals if it locks up a No. 3 seed.

The Bulls went 9 of 28 from the field in the first half, while Bowling Green finished 8-of-23 shooting. Sophomore guard Joanna Smith led the Bulls in scoring in the first half with nine points.

Legette-Jack credits the Falcons’ 2-3 zone defense for slowing the Bulls down.

“We wanted to push it, but they continued to get back,” Legette-Jack said. “When we got down the floor, they already had their 2-3 zone in place, making it tough for us to get good shots out there. Most of our first half attempts were contested.”

The Bulls defense stifled Bowling Green, and excelled at forcing turnovers. Buffalo entered the matchup first in the conference with 11 steals per game and the fourth-best turnover margin. The Bulls had five steals and forced 11 Falcon turnovers in the first half alone. Bowling Green finished the night with 14 turnovers.

“We continued to shine in creating turnovers,” Legette-Jack said. “Joanna did a good job and [sophomore forward] Alexus [Malone] had a couple steals just being active in the middle of the floor.”

The Bulls pulled away in the second half. Even though they finished with just 34 percent shooting in the second half, they scored 33 points and had three players score at least eight points after halftime.

Legette-Jack credits the breaking of the zone for the team’s second half success.

“We started to use Malone in motion,” Legette-Jack said. “Getting her moving around forced their defense to focus on her, allowing [senior forward Kristen Sharkey] to get some good looks. When Sharkey got good looks, we began to swing it to [junior guard Mackenzie Loesing] who found some easier attempts than she saw in the first half.”

The combination of Smith, Malone and Loesing combined for 24 of the team’s 33 points in the second half.

Smith finished with a game-high 17 points while shooting 5 of 11 from the field and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line. She also added seven rebounds in 30 minutes played. “Smith is coming on,” Legette-Jack said. “We always gave her a green light, but she passed out of it for the better of the team. We continued to communicate to her that sometimes, it’s OK to get your shot. Not only was she doing that, but she also got some rebounds. When she plays like that, we’re tough to beat.”

Senior center Christa Baccas finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Malone scored just eight points, but grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds. Loesing, the reigning Big 4 Player of the Week, finished with eight points and three rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

The Bulls travel to Kent, Ohio to face Kent State (5-23, 3-14 MAC) for their final game of the regular season. The last time the two teams played, the Bulls defeated the Golden Flashes 59-57 in Alumni Arena on Feb. 18.

Saturday’s tipoff is set for 2 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is a sports editor and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com