Bulls advance to semifinals

Women’s basketball dominates Kent State 85-52

womens-basketball

CLEVELAND, OH – Buffalo women’s basketball lost Saturday to Kent State to secure them as the four-seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament.

The Bulls automatically advanced to the quarterfinals and were happily greeted by the Golden Flashes in the first round. Buffalo lost by nine points last Saturday. On Wednesday, they won by 33.

Buffalo (21-9, 12-6 MAC) advances to the MAC semifinals after defeating Kent State 85-52 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. UB locked in on defense, holding Kent State to just 30 percent shooting and easily managed the Golden Flashes, going up 11 points in just the first quarter.

“You know, we didn't know what we were going to expect,” head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “We didn't know with Cierra [Dillard] coming back and then Summer [Hemphill] put on the shelf for the first nine games. We just said we're going to keep going forward, take steps forward and find out what happens. When you've got a Cierra and a Hanna [Hall] on your team, you've got a chance. And we just kept getting better and today is just a culmination of us deciding we're just going to continue to take steps forward and getting better as a team.”

UB opened the game on a 11-0 run. A 3-pointer by sophomore guard Hanna Hall, a jumper from senior guard Cierra Dillard, a 3-point play by junior guard Theresa Onwuka and another three from Dillard had Kent State looking lost in just the first three minutes.

The Bulls finished shooting 57 percent in the first quarter. They finished with a 26 percent shooting percentage for the entire game last week against Kent State. 

Hall knocking down her opening shots was more important than the team’s hot shooting start.

“Just focus,” Hall said. “I knew this was the stage that I had to come through, especially with teams playing the way they're playing against Cierra and Summer and our main players right now, it's important for me to be able to be that third option as well as like Courtney Wilkins, a great shooter. To have that third option, it makes teams really tough to guard us, so I was just locked in and ready for when the ball came.”

At halftime, Buffalo was up 41-21.

Hall felt that the Bulls executed their skill better than they ever had. They were locked in, set the tempo and dictated where they wanted the game to go. The way that they communicated on defense compared to last week was “amazing.”

Defensively, Buffalo forced 14 turnovers and blocked five shots. Kent State head coach Todd Sharkey thinks the Bulls are the most athletic team in the conference and the Golden Flashes did not have the personnel to match up and beat Buffalo twice in one week.

“They’re one of the top 35 teams in the country,” Sharkey said. “With the right draw they could see themselves back in the Sweet 16.”

The Bulls could see themselves back in the Sweet 16 with another performance like junior forward Summer Hemphill had. Hemphill finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, including a three. It was just the third make from deep in her college career.

Hemphill consistently makes threes in practice but doesn’t attempt them in games. She feels it’s someone else’s responsibility to shoot from deep, according to Legette-Jack.

“Everything we talk about is a microcosm of life, and I think the light’s kind of flickering with this young lady,” Legette-Jack said. “If the light ever comes on with Summer Hemphill we’re going to be real dangerous.”

Buffalo will need everything it can get from Hemphill, Hall, Dillard and others when they take on Central Michigan in the semifinals.

The Chippewas defeated Eastern Michigan 88-80 in overtime on Wednesday.

The Bulls have lost twice to Central Michigan, which defeated them in last year’s MAC tournament final.

“What we're trying to do is say we were good at a lot of things but let's make it even better,” Legette-Jack said. “So we're looking at this as a three-game situation. We just got through with game one. If we won by 1, 30, doesn't matter. And now we're going to game two and now we have to continue to go forward.”

The teams will meet Friday at 11 a.m. to decide who heads to the championship game on Saturday.

Nathaniel Mendelson is the senior sports editor and can be reached at Nathaniel.mendelson@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @NateMendelson.