UB women’s basketball receives first-ever WNIT invite
Bulls to face West Virginia on Thursday
With a 63-55 loss to top-seeded Ohio in the Mid-American Conference Tournament Semifinals on March 13, the women’s basketball team didn’t make its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance like the Buffalo men’s team.
But the team will still get a chance to play in a national tournament, and it will face a similar opponent to the men’s team.
The Bulls (19-12, 11-7 MAC) were selected to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament (WNIT) for the first time in program history Monday and will face West Virginia (18-14, 7-11 Big Ten) in Morgantown, West Virginia on Thursday. The men’s team will also face West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
It is the second time in school history the Bulls were selected to play in a postseason tournament. The first occurred in 2011 when the team was an eighth seed in the Women's Basketball Invitational and lost to Wright State 82-79.
Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack called the WNIT invitation “a huge victory for the program.”
“For the players and community, this is a wonderful feeling,” Legette-Jack said. “Seeing the growth of our program and the success we had on the court, it’s great to see the support that took us to this point. We had some good moments and we had some tough ones, but as a team we rose to the occasion and this bid is the step in the right direction.”
Buffalo’s 11 MAC wins are its most ever, and its 19 overall wins are tied for the most since joining the MAC in 1998. Legette-Jack attributed the team’s success to solidarity on and off the court provided by senior forwards Christa Baccas and Kristen Sharkey.
“Our seniors did a great job. They were resilient all season long,” Legette-Jack said. “No matter what, Sharkey and Baccas kept coming back and they provided that leadership at the top of the roster. They were a pure joy to watch and they did a great job of preventing anyone or thing that could’ve brought us down.”
The Bulls started just 1-3 in MAC play after being picked to finish first in the MAC East by the preseason polls and saw one of their top players, sophomore forward/guard Rachel Gregory, leave the team to transfer in the middle of the season. But Buffalo won its final three games of the regular season to lock up a No. 4 seed for the second straight season and second time in program history.
Sharkey, who is now entering her final games as a Bull, said the tournament will give the Bulls a chance to redeem themselves after falling in the MAC Tournament.
“I believe our season was fine,” Sharkey said. “We learned a lot, we grew a lot as a team and lost games we shouldn’t have loss. Still, we got this tremendous honor and we have a chance to bring home a championship for the Bulls. That’s all we really wanted to do.”
An All-MAC second team member, Sharkey averaged 14.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Sharkey thanked Legette-Jack, who came to Buffalo the season after Sharkey was a medical redshirt for an ACL tear, for her success.
“For three years under Coach Jack, it’s been great,” Sharkey said. “She was great as a teacher. She would push you and try to get the best from you. She’s a great basketball coach, but she also taught me how to be a strong, independent woman off the floor. For all the lessons she taught me in my time here, I’m grateful.”
In preparing for their first WNIT appearance, Legette-Jack said the Bulls are not focused on adjusting to West Virginia, but rather are focusing on their own strengths.
“West Virginia is a good team. They’re athletic and the really run the floor like deer, so we have a challenge,” Legette-Jack said. “We just have to do what we do best. We know what we can do and we know what’s vital in our chances of victory. If we box out, attack the glass and push the pace, we will be there in the end.”
The WNIT is a 64-team, single elimination tournament with the participating teams hosting all the games. A live web stream will be available on West Virginia’s team website. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
This story has been updated as more information became available.
Quentin Haynes is the sports desk editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org