UB women's basketball team locks up a No. 4 seed and double-bye to the quarterfinals

Bulls look to win tournament after last year’s early exit


Last season, the women’s basketball team locked up a No. 4 seed and a double-bye to the Mid-American Conference Tournament Quarterfinals, but were upset by Ball State 74-60 in its first game.

This year, the Bulls have again locked up a No. 4 seed and double-bye to the quarterfinals. But the team said it has learned from last year’s tournament.

“We took it too lightly [last season],” said junior guard Mackenzie Loesing. “This year, we’re lucky enough to have that experience. We know that we’re going into the tournament and playing teams that might have some momentum. We didn’t think about that last year. We do get that rest and it will help us get have fresh legs. [The double-bye is] both a blessing and a curse, but we’re ready for it.”

The Bulls (18-11, 11-7 MAC) will try to make a run to the NCAA Tournament starting on Thursday at noon when they take on the winner of No. 5 Western Michigan (19-11, 11-7 MAC) and No. 9 Central Michigan (13-17, 7-11 MAC), which will take place on Wednesday.

The Bulls ended their regular season on a three-game winning streak with a 68-58 win over Kent State (5-25, 3-15 MAC). The final victory of the season propelled the team to a No. 4 seed and a first-round bye.

Senior forward Kristen Sharkey was named second team All-MAC Monday, and lead the team with 14.3 points and eight rebounds per game. Sharkey, who will be making her fourth MAC Tournament appearance, said the team is ready to go this time around.

“At this point, we’re coming together,” Sharkey said. “JoJo [sophomore guard Joanna Smith] is stepping up huge for us. Mackenzie found her shot. We also have the Defensive Player of the Year on our team. Defense will win basketball games.”

Senior forward Christa Baccas was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year Monday and led the conference with 2.3 blocks per game and was second in offensive rebounds with 3.5 per game this season. Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said Bacass is a defensive stalwart and has been a factor in the paint on the defensive side of the ball.

According to Loesing, defense is the most important part about winning a MAC Championship. Loesing, who won MAC Sixth Player of the Year award Monday, said the team has been focusing on defense as of late because the team thinks the offense will fall into place if the defense is there.

On offense, Legette-Jack praised Smith, who has averaged 17.3 points per game over the team’s current four-game winning streak.

“We talk about Joanna Smith, who has done a tremendous job for us right now,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s playing at a high-octane level and has played tremendous for us down the stretch.”

Legette-Jack said the team’s chemistry will be a factor in how well it plays in Cleveland. At the beginning of the season, Legette-Jack said the team’s chemistry was good, but not there yet. Entering the final week of play, Legette-Jack said otherwise.

“There were people in the locker room that didn’t belong there,” Legette-Jack said. “Those people aren’t in our locker room anymore. I like that the kids have taken ownership of their responsibilities. The people that are making mistakes are not afraid to say, ‘It was my fault.’”

Sophomore guard/forward Rachel Gregory left the team in January with plans to transfer to another school.

The team will play on Thursday at the Quicken Loans Arena in the quarterfinals for the second straight year. The Bulls would need another three-game winning streak to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

And if the team’s “oneness” is present, Legette-Jack said the team will have a great opportunity to advance to the big dance.

“If we can connect with each other and continue with our oneness, this team will be special,” Legette-Jack said. “Our story is really fun to hear. But no one will hear it until we cut the nets down. Let’s make people hear our story.”

Thursday’s tipoff is set for noon.

Jordan Grossman is senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com