The UB women’s basketball team is set to begin the 2021-22 season with the same philosophy but with a younger team and a deeper bench.
The Bulls recently played their lone exhibition game against the D-II Daemen Wildcats, a 98-43 win where they never once trailed and consistently put up a ton of points. The Bulls finished the pandemic-filled 2020-21 season with a 15-9, 11-6 MAC record but lost in the Mid-American Conference Championship to No. 1 seed Bowling Green, 80-67.
There were numerous factors preventing head coach Felisha Legette-Jack from sticking to her normal philosophy of running a deep bench and keeping her team fresh at all times, but the major factor was injuries. Redshirt fifth-year forward Summer Hemphill, senior forward Adebola Adeyeye and junior forwards Elea Gaba and Loren Christie all dealt with lingering injuries during the season, leaving the majority of the workload on the backcourt.
Legette-Jack believes her players are entering the season at nearly 100% and that it will impact the game flow significantly.
“She’s [Adeyeye] not fully healed but she’s getting better and better. Her surgery was perfect but now it’s all about that confidence to use her shoulder and go straight up with it,” Legette-Jack said. “And, unfortunately, Loren went down so we were down two bigs while our other two bigs were still not 100% in the first place. She’s able to shoot the three-ball and we’re asking her to take those mid-range shots at 6-foot-2. She’s shown tremendous improvement and growth in her game and it helped when she played 3-on-3 for her country [England] this summer.”
With the bigs starting to get back into the swing of things, the team’s dependency on junior guard Dyaisha Fair will lessen and she’ll be able to do more than just score, which will help steer this team in the right direction, Legette-Jack said.
The backcourt duo of Fair and sophomore Cheyenne McEvans was already impressive last season, but the addition of freshman Australia native Georgia Woolley — who averaged 40 points per game at her high school in Australia last year — adds a whole new dynamic and should allow Legette-Jack to approach opponents differently.
“We’re very fortunate to have a young lady like her [Woolley]. She’s what you call a ‘cerebral player,’ because she analyzes the game and it moves in slow motion for her,” Legette-Jack said. “She can play three positions, whether that’s the two, three or four and she’s just a very smart lady, on- and off-the-court.”
The MAC is anticipated to be as stiff as it usually is, full of talented players and competitive programs. Seven different programs have won a conference crown in the last decade, an unusual amount of parody for women’s hoops.
Legette-Jack believes women’s basketball deserves more recognition, especially in the MAC: “We’re all pretty damn good,” she says.
“There are so many good teams in this conference like Ohio, Bowling Green, Central Michigan or Toledo that are great, and I think we’re pretty good too,” Legette-Jack said. “But nobody knows about our conference until the last day of the season and I think it’s about time people start getting upset that women’s basketball doesn’t get a single television game on any TV station. After 10 years, I think I have a right to say that.”
Before conference play begins late December, the Bulls will have to handle non-conference foes like No. 1 South Carolina, VCU and Bucknell. While it’s unlikely the Bulls will pull off a generational upset over the Gamecocks, the non-conference schedule presents the team with a number of early season opportunities
“Those teams are the best in their conferences and we just want our young people to play against these teams,” Legette-Jack said. “At the end of the day, I challenge them on the court and in the classrooms here at UB. This is the place to come because we’re going to put you to the test all day every day and we’re going to start from the top all the way to the bottom.”
The program Legette-Jack has created and the culture she has instilled in these young student-athletes is the reason the Bulls have been so successful during her tenure.
The three words that come to mind when Legette-Jack thinks about her team are culture, defense and discipline.
“That’s it. We build a culture here and it’s going to be the same way every time,” Legette-Jack said. “We’re going to play defense where we’re going to guard you to the bus and I don’t care how many points Dyaisha [Fair] can score, if she can’t defend, she can’t play. And, it’s about discipline. It’s a microcosm of life and it’s important that my staff and I instill that into them and hopefully they become better people outside of basketball because they came to the University at Buffalo.”
The Bulls will begin regular season play with a game against Canisius at Alumni Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game will be aired on ESPN3 and will feature a return of fans in the stands.
Hunter Skoczylas is the assistant sports editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @HunterSkoczylas
Hunter Skoczylas is the sports editor for The Spectrum. In his free time, he can be found looking up random sports statistics, jamming to Fleetwood Mac and dedicating his Sunday afternoons to watching the Buffalo Bills.