UB women’s basketball falls to Toledo in MAC Tournament semifinals

Buffalo loses 72-65 in MAC semifinals


CLEVELAND, OHIO—The Buffalo Bulls' chance to repeat as Mid-American Conference champions has come to an end.

The Bulls fought with everything they had and cut a 14-point lead down to just four with 3:34 remaining in the game, but couldn’t finish the comeback.

The No. 7 seeded Buffalo Bulls (22-10, 10-9 MAC) lost to the No. 6 seeded Toledo Rockets (24-8, 13-6 MAC) 72-65 in the semifinals of the MAC women’s basketball tournament at Quicken Loans Arena Friday afternoon. The Rockets had the lead for over 30 minutes in the game, including a double digit lead for over five minutes of game time.

Freshman guard Mariella Santucci came out of the gate hot for Toledo and scored 15 in the first half before finishing with 21 points in the game. She was also tasked with defending senior guard JoAnna Smith for most of the game. Smith finished with 17 points but was just 6-of-21 from the field and 2-of-10 from deep.

“We've played Buffalo three times this year, and if you log the minutes of who guarded [Smith] the most, it's always been Mariella,” said Rockets head coach Tricia Cullop. “We tried to make sure we had other people rotated on [Smith], and I also was just trying to keep [Santucci] fresh because I didn't want her to have to guard [Smith] the entire game, because she was doing such a good job offensively.”

Things stayed tight in the game early and the first half featured seven lead changes.

Toledo went on a 9-0 run during the last five minutes of the half and never looked back. The Bulls never took the lead back in the game.

“Our defense is a technical defense,” said Bulls head coach Felicia Legette-Jack. “And I think that the technicality of that really cost us about six to eight points, and to me, I own that. I have to make that a little bit more clear as we move forward, and we'll keep getting better.”

The Bulls had a rough day defensively. They allowed 10 points over their season average of 61.3. Buffalo is now 0-9 when their opponents score over 70 points this season.

Sophomore guard Mikaela Boyd was a big contributor for the Rockets. She finished with 10 points, five assists and a game-high 11 boards for the Rockets.

Junior forward Courtney Wilkins had the best day shooting for the Bulls. She finished with 11 points and shot 75 percent from behind the arc. Smith and Wilkins were the only Bulls to make a three-pointer in the game.

“They've got a lot of pieces,” Callup said. “And I think the one thing that is still difficult and we didn't do a great job of guarding it today, is their post players can step up to shoot it. They really stretch you.”

Junior guard Stephanie Reid added 10 points and five assists for the Bulls.

The Bulls were hopeful about their postseason hopes following the game.

“It's pretty tough, pretty emotional, but you know, we're not done,” Smith said. “We still have the WNIT… it's a bittersweet moment, knowing that this is my last game playing in the MAC but we still have a lot of basketball, if the Lord is willing, left to play.”

Jack said her team isn’t ready to quit and is already refocusing on the next time they get on the court.

“Those young ladies aren't ready to surrender their sneakers yet,” Jack said.

Toledo will play the Northern Illinois Huskies (21-10, 12-6 MAC) Saturday at 11 a.m. in the finals of the MAC tournament.

Daniel Petruccelli is the assistant sports editor and can be reach at daniel.petruccelli@ubspectrum.com