Women’s basketball (12-15, 7-11 MAC) defeated Western Michigan (12-17, 7-11 MAC) 72-67 Saturday, putting them above the Broncos in the Mid-American Conference standings and earning them the No. 8 seed in the MAC Tournament. Going into Saturday’s game, the Bulls needed to beat Western Michigan while either Miami (OH), Akron or Eastern Michigan needed to lose for UB to make the playoffs. Miami (OH) lost to Ball State, guaranteeing the Bulls the No. 8 seed.
The Bulls started out strong, jumping out to an early 7-0 lead. But Western Michigan soon found its footing, cutting UB’s lead to just two points by the end of the first quarter. At the half, UB was up 39-30.
Four minutes into the third quarter, senior guard Jazmine Young fell to the ground after missing a layup. The Broncos took possession and scored a 3-pointer before Young was escorted off the court by trainers with an apparent leg injury. With two minutes left in the third, Young reentered the game with a slight limp but quickly found her footing, immediately adding to the score. She ended the game with 11 points.
“To go down as hard as she did, and want to come back for her team and finish this thing out, it just speaks to Jaz and who she is and her character,” Bulls head coach Becky Burke said about Young’s return.
In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the Bulls’ lead had shrunk to just two points with 21 seconds left in the game. Senior guard Re’Shawna Stone converted two free throws for the Bulls (on two separate fouls) to increase the Bulls’ lead to four points.
Senior guard Zakiyah Winfield sealed the victory for the Bulls with a final free throw with six seconds remaining. The bench rushed onto the court to celebrate their third-straight win and a clinched spot in the MAC Tournament next week.
“I didn’t realize until the last two seconds of the game when I turned around and asked our scores table, so I didn’t want to focus on that,” Burke said about the Bulls’ standing in the tournament. “Ultimately if things didn’t go our way we wanted to win this game for us.”
Fifth-year guard Re’Shawna Stone finished the game as the Bulls’ leading scorer with 23 points. Winfield was the second leading scorer with 20 points, and she recorded her 15th double double.
Six seniors were honored after the final home game of the season at Alumni Arena: guards Briyanna Baron, Latrice Perkins, Stone, Winfield, Young and forward Olivia DeBortoli.
“They needed to get us through one year until we get our first true recruiting class and that we could go through a full cycle,” Burke said, talking about the impact the seniors have had on the team. “They did everything we asked them to, they were a joy to coach and I think these fans really appreciated these guys.”
Burke emphasized winning this game for each other and honoring their senior players with a victory, regardless of the outcomes of the aforementioned games within the conference. After a six-game losing streak, the Bulls needed to win their final three games to have a shot at making the playoffs.
“When you know it’s win or go home, something clicks in your sense of urgency to say ‘OK, if we don’t give it everything we have, every single one of these games we will be sitting out,’”Burke said in response to the change in play after the six-game losing streak, “When it is such a dire situation, you have no choice but to play better, no choice but to lay it all out on the line.”
Burke says that the team will stick to a similar game plan going into the tournament.
“I think what has worked the past three games is going to continue to work moving forward, but every game plan is different,” Burke said.
The Bulls will face MAC No. 1-seed Toledo (25-4, 16-2 MAC)in Cleveland on Wednesday at 11 a.m. at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. The matchup can be streamed on ESPN+.
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