JoAnna Smith leads UB women’s basketball past Bowling Green in MAC Tournament opener
UB advances to Quarter-finals of Mid-American Conference Tournament
Senior guard JoAnna Smith was held to just two points on three field goal attempts in the first half against Bowling Green.
In the second half, she responded by erupting for 22 points and scored 13 of the team’s 15 third-quarter points. Her effort led UB women’s basketball (21-9, 10-8 Mid-American Conference) to a hard-fought win over Bowling Green (8-23, 4-14 MAC) 61-45 in the first round of the MAC tournament.
Just nine days ago, the same Bowling Green team ruined Smith’s senior night, stunning the Bulls in their regular season home finale. However, Smith was fine with the tradeoff.
“Senior night was senior night,” Smith said. “But I would rather lose senior night and win a MAC championship, than win senior night and not win a MAC championship.”
Along with Smith’s 24 points was help from Junior center Cassie Oursler, who scored 16 points with five rebounds. Junior guard Stephanie Reid also chipped in 12 points and was just one assist shy of getting a double double.
The trio combined for 52 of the Bulls 61 points and made 21 of the team’s 24 field goals.
Although Junior forward Katherine Ups only generated two points, her effort on the glass propelled the Bulls in the second half. Ups gathered six of the team’s 19 offensive rebounds, and collected 10 in total. She also added a steal, a block and two assists.
“She understands exactly what I’m talking about,” said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “I talk fast, I slur my words, but she gets me. Everyone else out on the court really receives her well. She’s all about the team and I love that she’s our defensive captain.”
This is the fifth opponent in the past seven games that the Bulls have held under 60 points and they have won all of such games. They now improve to 17-0 this season when holding opponents to under 60 points, and 19-0 over the past two seasons when they hold their opponent to below 50 points.
“I thought [the defense] was great,” Legette-Jack said. “I thought [junior forward] Mariah Suchan really ignited the defense. Defensively her stats don’t ever show what she has done.”
Suchan was tasked with helping Oursler inside with defending Bowling Green center Abby Siefker, who leads the Falcons with 101 offensive rebounds in the season. Suchan also had to guard senior forward Ashley Tunstall, who was held to only five points and six rebounds.
After winning the MAC tournament as the eighth seed last season and making their first appearance in the NCAA tournament, it was tough for the Bulls to play with a target on their back this year. They were used to being the underdogs.
“It’s something that we’re starting to embrace as of late, but I don’t think we really understood it early on in the season,” Smith said. “People would [figuratively] punch us in the face and we would be like ‘Why are people punching us in the face?’”
Throughout the season, Jack has emphasized that this young Bulls team is trying to tell their story. She was proud of the desperation that her team showed, knowing now that it’s conference tournament time, tomorrow is not promised.
With the win, the Bulls victory count is now at 21, the most the team has had since joining the MAC in the 1998-99 season.
In Legette-Jack’s first season as head coach of UB in 2012-13, the team won just 12 games.
After the game, Smith quickly took the microphone, thanking the fans for their continued support over her four years at UB. She’s looking forward to seeing them again in Cleveland for the last time of her career.
“I’m trying to play the game and savor it at the same time,” Smith said. “It’s hard to play the game then think, ‘Wow, man this is my last game in Alumni.’ I really won’t think about it until after the season. Right now, I’m just focused on what I have in front of me.”
The Bulls now advance to the quarter-finals of the MAC Tournament to take on Ball State, who defeated UB 89-75 in their lone meeting this season. The game is on Wednesday, and tip-off is estimated to be around 5 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Justin Bystrak is a sports staff writer and can be reached at email@example.com