Cinderella dreams came to an end for UB Saturday afternoon as No. 13 seed women’s basketball (25-9) fell to No. 4 seed Tennessee (24-8), 80-67, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, TN.
The size discrepancy between the two teams proved to be the deciding factor, as the Lady Vols outrebounded the Bulls by 17 and scored 19 second-chance points.
Strong performances by junior guard Dyaisha Fair (game-high 25 points) and freshman guard Georgia Woolley (15 points) kept the Bulls in the game but still weren’t enough. Fair shot 5-of-13 from three and added seven assists while Woolley wreaked havoc on the defensive end with seven steals.
The Bulls put up a valiant effort against a superior Tennessee squad that had a considerable size advantage. Eleven of Tennessee’s 14 players are six feet or taller while seven of UB’s fifteen players are over the six-foot mark. UB had the game within two points at halftime, but the longer the game went on, the gap between the Bulls and the Lady Vols began to grow.
“Such a wonderful game to be on ABC, we weren’t going to relent and neither was Tennessee,” UB head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said after the game. “The fight was tremendous, all the way to the last seven, eight minutes of the game. At the end of the day, that size really wore us down a little bit.”
UB had no answer for UT junior center Tamari Key. The 6-foot-6 big had 16 points and 11 rebounds — eight of which came on the offensive end. Graduate forward Alexis Dye tacked on 18 points and 11 boards while senior forward Rae Burrell and graduate guard Jordan Walker combined for 32 points.
The Bulls found trouble inside as multiple makeable attempts in the paint didn’t fall and senior forward Adebola Adeyeye and junior center Elea Gaba both got into foul trouble in the first half. Legette-Jack was forced to pull her bigger players from the game and UB paid the price for it in the paint.
“I mean, they’re very tall. [Key] is 6-foot-6,” Woolley said. “So it was always going to be a challenge for our bigs today and they gave it everything they had. They did really well.”
Graduate forward Summer Hemphill, who stands just over six feet, played a game-high 40 minutes. The Buffalo native played tenacious defense and battled against players that were anywhere from two to six inches taller than her. She grabbed 10 rebounds in what became her final game at UB.
“[I] can’t say enough about Summer Hemphill, who as small as she is, contested every possession,” Legette-Jack said. “She probably shouldn’t have played because her knee was bothering her, but there was nothing I could do to keep that young lady out of the game. And for that, I’ve got to thank her.”
Fair also impressed with 25 points despite the loss. The 5-foot-5 junior scored at will during stretches and willed the Bulls back into the game on multiple occasions. UB fans have become accustomed to Fair’s step-back three-pointers and strong finishes at the basket, but her performance against Tennessee highlighted her abilities on a national stage.
“I’ll put Dyaisha Fair against anybody in the country. And I mean that,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s a special player.”
The Bulls had the game within grasp until buckets by Burrell and Key provided Tennessee with a 10-point cushion at the eight-minute mark. The Lady Vols never looked back and held off UB to advance to the tournament’s second round.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve been pretty stressed over this opponent,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said. “Buffalo was really good. Our players knew it. They did not overlook them. They understood this was a very good basketball team.”
Regardless of the result, UB was able to gain national notoriety on network television. Saturday’s game was aired nationally on ABC, making it the first time in program history the Bulls have ever appeared on network TV.
UB played on the road against one of the premier programs of women’s college basketball and managed to give Tennessee a legitimate challenge.
Legette-Jack says the effort displayed by a Bulls squad that had everything working against them is a representation of what the program has become.
“We never lose, we either win or we learn,” Legette-Jack said. “And we won today because these young people showed a lot of heart, a lot of fight, and their story was told in a matter of 40 minutes. It was great to sit there and witness it.”
Anthony DeCicco is the Editor-in-Chief of The Spectrum. His words have appeared in outlets such as SLAM Magazine andSyracuse.com. In 2020, he was awarded First Prize for Sports Column Writing at the Society of Professional Journalists' Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. In his free time, he can be found watching ‘90s Knicks games and reading NFL Mock Drafts at 3 a.m.