UB women's basketball 'wants more' for 2015-16 season

Bulls aim to improve despite offseason losses

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The women’s basketball team wants to continue to build off of last season.

The Bulls finished 19-13 overall and 11-7 in Mid-American Conference play. They made it to the semifinals of the conference tournament and earned the program’s first-ever postseason bid with an invite to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT).

But Buffalo’s top-3 scorers last season and the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year are all gone.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack still wants more for her team this season.

“This is a team with no names – no [Kristen] Sharkey, no [Mackenzie] Loesing. There’s just a bunch of young women that want to grow the women’s basketball program,” Legette-Jack said. “We don’t care who gets the credit, as long as we punched through. The NCAA’s are there for the taking. It’s a basketball game – we don’t have to wait our turn to play. We’re going to go after it.”

The Bulls opened up practice last week as they try to figure out new arrangements and personnel sets to replace four players who played at least 25 minutes per game last season. Forwards Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas both graduated, while forward Alexus Malone transferred to Louisiana Tech and guard Mackenzie Loesing ended her career prematurely after various lower leg and ankle injuries.

Legette-Jack said the team will have no choice but to “grow up fast.” And at the team’s first practice, the first sign of optimism Legette-Jack saw was her new big, but fast moving, forwards.

“I like the way our bigs run the floor,” Legette-Jack said. “They were running down the floor really well, even better than some of our guards. I had to challenge the guards, telling them, ‘You can’t let that happen to you,’ and then they out ran them again. It’s exciting to see the bigs get down the floor like that.”

At the forward positions, sophomores Mariah Suchan and Courtney Wilkins as well as freshman Tamara Brcina will be vying for two starting spots. With three players gone from their frontcourt, the Bulls will have a bevy of options to choose from on the roster.

But not so much for the center position. Replacing a reigning Defensive Player of the Year isn’t easy, but Legette-Jack has narrowed her options down to two players.

Last season’s rotation had two issues: shooting and size. Baccas was great – good enough to be recognized as the league’s best defender – but she measured at 6-foot-2. This year’s center options – sophomore Cassie Oursler and freshman Mirte Scheper – provide the Bulls with size, as Oursler comes in at 6-foot-3 and Scheper is 6-foot-4.

There is no “replacing” Baccas, according to Legette-Jack, but she said the size of Scheper gives Buffalo a different look on the defensive end.

“I think Mirte can do some of the things that Baccas has done. I think she has great timing on block shots. The biggest difference is the size with Mirte being 6-foot-4. It’ll allow us to stretch on defense a bit more, while having the size to cover for it,” Legette-Jack said.

Although the forward rotation is still in limbo, the guards have been set since last years’ postseason in sophomore Stephanie Reid and junior Joanna Smith.

After joining the program midway through last season, Reid, an Australian native, took over the point guard position and never let it go. She started 17 of her 19 games played last season last season and finished with 6.7 points and 3.4 assists per game.

“She’s looking great,” Legette-Jack said about Reid. “She’s looking really great. She’s getting stronger, more vocal on the court. When she got off the plane, we put her on the floor and she never looked back. All the stuff we taught in the summer, she was right there. Now that she has this entire offseason to work, she’s being a great leader for us.”

Smith broke out last season as a consistent and reliable shooting threat and was smart with the ball. She had 21 starts last season – and started every game from Jan. 21 on – while averaging 5.6 points and 2.9 rebounds. Smith is the favorite to begin the season as the starting 2-guard, but there are other options as well. Senior Karin Moss will be another experienced option in the backcourt for the Bulls as she played in 29 games last season.

It’s no surprise it’s going to be a different season. There are a lot of unproven question marks in many areas of the team. Legette-Jack acknowledges that but it’s not going to deter her from trying to make the postseason again.

The Bulls will continue practice leading up to their first exhibition game against Clarion on Nov. 3 at Alumni Arena. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Quentin Haynes is the co-senior sports editor and can be reached at quentin.haynes@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on twitter at @Haynes_Spectrum.