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CHRISTMAS CATCH-UP, PART 1: UB WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
What's happened with Buffalo women's hoops over the past couple weeks? Kind of a lot.
Image from ubbulls.com
Oh, hello there—didn’t see you come in. Looks like we nodded off for at the desk for (looks at watch) two weeks? Our mistake.
So, what’s up with the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team?1
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UB Women’s Hoops Bounces Back From 3-Game Losing Streak With 3 Straight Wins
Image from ubbulls.com
What can you say about Head Coach Becky Burke’s Bulls?2 After losing three of their first four games, UB (4-4) battled back to .500 with a three-game winning streak. If you throw out the loss to Division 2 Mercyhurst—it doesn’t count in Buffalo’s NCAA NET ranking, in which the squad is ranked #219 out of 361 Division 1 teams—the Bulls are now 4-3, over .500 for the first time in Burke’s first season on UB’s bench.
With Mid-American Conference play a flip of the calendar away, Buffalo—if not completely turning a corner—is certainly rounding into shape.
The Bulls don’t foul, posting the ninth-lowest opponent free-throw rate in Division 1 women’s basketball. They’re happy to let teams bomb away from three-point range; UB is in the top 20 percent of three-point shots allowed, but allows the 15th-lowest shooting percentage from distance in the nation.
HerHoopStats.com is certainly, uh, bullish on this squad. Using advanced analytics, the site predicts only five more games in which Burke’s team have less than a 50 percent chance of winning, and are calling for a minimum of 18 wins for a team that never played a game together in the Blue and White before Oct. 30.
Here’s how the Bulls have turned it around in December:
Image from ubbulls.com
Dec. 1: Rhode Island 71, Buffalo 56
Yes, this was a loss, but unlike the uninspired efforts in their previous two games—the two-point loss to Mercyhurst and a dreadful, 16-turnover performance against Drexel in which the Bulls shot 30 percent from the floor (including one-for-14 from three) and 40 percent from the free throw line—UB was arguably the better team in this one.
After falling behind 12-0 to start the game, Burke’s crew gave the Rams (currently 9-2) all they could handle. “They came in here and outplayed us tonight,” Rhode Island head coach Tammi Reiss said after the game. “I thought they had more energy. I thought they played harder…credit to Buffalo for coming in here, and really getting after it and competing.”
Image from buffalonews.com
Dec. 7: Buffalo 63, Niagara 58
The Purple Eagles (2-8) are ranked #312 in NCAA NET and won’t be mistaken as world-beaters anytime soon. They do, however, have a roster with less turnover from their .500 performance in 2021-22 than the Bulls do from last year’s MAC championship run, and boast significant young, local talent (including four Cardinal O’Hara grads).
UB jumped out to a 21-14 lead after the first quarter despite falling behind 7-0 to start the game, including six points from guard fifth-year guard Jazmine Young. From there, Buffalo grit its collective teeth and held on as aggressive officiating slowed the game into a grinding battle of attrition and the Bulls came away with the 63-58 road victory at the historic Gallagher Center.
Young and fifth-year guard Zakiyah Winfield (pictured above) each finished with 17 points, while Winfield’s former backcourt mate at Division 2 national champion Glenville State, Re’Shawna Stone, added 12. The 5’7 Winfield also grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds.
This was also the game in which the UB lineup began to truly solidify. In the previous five games, Winfield alone had played at least 33 minutes per contest (Stone cracked the 30-minute barrier four times). Young, Winfield, and Stone all played at least 36 minutes apiece at Niagara, while forward Emerita Mashaire (five points, three rebounds) was on the court for 31.
Winfield, Stone, and Young each have a usage rate3 over 22.7 percent this season. For the foreseeable future, this team will go how these three go.
Image from ubbulls.com
Dec. 10: Buffalo 91, LIU 59
Once again, the Bulls did what needs to be done against an inferior opponent (the Sharks are #318 in NCAA NET)—jump out to a big lead and never look back. UB scored 24 first-quarter points and another 21 in the second to build a 45-22 halftime lead and never looked back.
“I just saw everything of which they are capable every single day in practice,” Burke told UBBulls.com. “It's been a slow, developing process for us in games but we’ve been patient with them, they’ve been patient with us and this just shows what we are capable of on any given night. Definitely a positive momentum builder for us moving into our last game before the holiday break.”
Big scoring games again for Young (pictured above) and Winfield, who each dropped 20. Winfield recorded her second straight double-double, leading both teams with 11 rebounds. Stone and fifth-year forward Kiara Johnson each scored 17 points, with Stone adding six assists.
Winfield, Stone, and Young each played at least 32 minutes, and Mashaire clocked 28. Buffalo shot 53 percent from the field and forced 19 turnovers.
Image from ubbulls.com
Dec. 20: Buffalo 58, Bucknell 51
The Bulls avenged last season’s 11-point loss in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with a seven-point victory over the Bison at Alumni Arena. After falling behind, 44-42 with 6:51 left in the game, UB went on a 14-0 run over the next 5:32 to finish off Bucknell (#209 in the NCAA NET, 4-7 overall).
This game was a rock fight—Buffalo outscored the Bison, 26-16, over the second and third quarters combined—and there were stretches of 4:11 and 3:45 when neither team scored. Regardless, the Bulls earned a third straight W, bolstered by Winfield’s third double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds) in a row, a game-high 16 points from Young, and 13 points from Stone. Mashaire (pictured above) had four assists, and these four—the Iron Four—played a full 40 minutes.
Image from gobonnies.com
Up Next: Dec. 28 at St. Bonaventure, 4 p.m. (ESPN+)
Are we looking at a fourth win in a row? If you’re going to play in the lion’s den known as the Reilly Center, it’s best to do it when the students are off-campus.
The Bonnies are 3-11 this season, #306 in NCAA NET, although they’ve worked to integrate six transfers and three freshmen into the roster while facing a difficult non-conference schedule that’s included three mid-major top 25 teams and competitive programs like Georgia State, East Tennessee State, Robert Morris, and Bucknell, among others.
Bona, coached by seventh-year head coach Jesse Fleming, is led by senior forward I’yanna Lops (11.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, two blocks per game) and junior guard Nadechka Laccen (8.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists per game). Junior swing Maddie Dziezgowski shoots 38 percent from three.
The State of UB Women’s Hoops Heading Into 2023
Image from ubbulls.com
The Cliff’s Notes version on UB women’s basketball through two months—Buffalo wins when it takes its opponents to the mat.
Tough defense. Forced turnovers. Attacking the basket from the front court from half-court sets, eschewing threes in favor of rim runs.
The team’s showed flashes of ability to get out and sprint in transition, but it remains to be seen if those glimpses turn into a full-on personality—especially given the group’s rebounding struggles.
The Bulls are 244th in the country in scoring, according to HerHoopStats.com, with 60 points per game. The upside, however, is they allow the 48th-least fewest points per game at 57.9. The offensive rating—points per 100 possessions—is 212th, at 86.8, but the defensive rating is significantly better (97th overall) at 85.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. The result is a net rating of 1.7, #157 in Division 1 women’s basketball, which isn’t too bad for a team that was torn down to the studs this previous spring.
UB starts its MAC run on Jan. at Kent State, currently #12 on the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25. Buffalo is second-to-last in the conference in team offense and fourth in team defense. While the Bulls are middle of the pack in terms of three-point percentage (31 percent, sixth in the MAC), they’re dead last in threes attempted—just 30 on the season. Fortunately, UB holds opponents to a 28 percent make rate on threes, second behind Toledo.
The make-or-break stats for UB are free-throw percentage (66 percent, second to last in the MAC), rebounding (34 per game, 10th in the conference), and turnovers (16.3 per game). Buffalo’s offense relies almost exclusively on Young, Winfield, and Stone’s (pictured above) ability to get to the basket—if they get fouled, which is part of the plan, they need to knock those freebies down. Right now, Winfield alone (77 percent) is currently hitting three out of four consistently. Besides the three guards, no one else on the roster has been to the line more than 16 times.
As for rebounding, Winfield—a 5’7 guard—leads the team (and is 15th in the country) with 10.8 boards per game. Six-foot-two forward Kiara Johnson topped the backcourt unit with 4.5 boards per game, but she’s now out for the season with a lower-body injury. Mashaire (5’11) averages just over two rebounds a game, Kayla Salmons (6’3) grabs three, Hattie Ogden (6’2) snares less than two per contest, and Ronnie Nwora (6’2) hasn’t played in eight games. Olivia DeBortoli (6’2) was just added from the UB volleyball squad for additional size. Who’s going to step up from this group?
Scouting the MAC: Where the Contenders, Pretenders Stand
Image from kentstatesports.com
Let’s take a quick look at the competition, based on where they placed in the 2022-23 preseason coaches poll.
TOLEDO: The Rockets are 9-2, 55th in the NCAA NET, and #6 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. Toledo’s signature win to date is a 71-68 road victory over #19 Michigan on Dec. 8. Senior guard Sophia Wiard—a preseason 1st-team All-MAC selection—scored 15 points, including three three-pointers, and junior swing Sammi Mikonowicz drove to score the go-ahead bucket with under 20 seconds in the game.
BALL STATE: The Cardinals have jumped out to a 9-3 record, rank 89th in NCAA NET, and sit at #13 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. Ball State boasts non-conference wins over solid programs like Butler, BYU, Western Kentucky, Saint Louis, and Pitt.
Image from bgsufalcons.com
BOWLING GREEN: The Falcons, 10-1 overall, #45 in NCAA NET, and #10 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, have spent a lot of time in the Midwest this winter, notching wins over decent squads like Northern Kentucky and IUPUI. Senior guard Elissa Brett (pictured above), a product of Adelaide, Australia, averages 12.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
KENT STATE: The Golden Flashes are 7-3 overall, #12 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, and have won six of their last seven, including a 59-56 decision over Oklahoma State in Stillwater and a championship in the Christmas City Classic. Forward Lindsay Thall (pictured, top), a five-year KSU veteran, scored 20 in the title game—a 72-66 win over Southern Illinois—and was named MVP of the tourney.
Image from niuhuskies.com
NORTHERN ILLINOIS: The Huskies are 8-3 and would be undisputed queens of Illinois hoops with wins over DePaul, Western Illinois, and Eastern Illinois were it not for an inexplicable loss to 1-10 Southern Illinois-Edwardsville—the Cougars’ only win of the season. Regardless, NIU is #17 in the mid-major Top 25 and #152 in NCAA NET. Forward A’Jah Davis (pictured above), a preseason All-MAC 1st-teamer, is averaging 14.6 points and is 11th in D1 hoops with 11.1 rebounds per game.
WESTERN MICHIGAN: The Broncos are 5-6 and #234 in NCAA NET. Look out for Lauren Ross—the preseason 2nd-team All-MAC selection in ninth in the country in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game. Before her 14-point effort in a WMU loss to #5 Notre Dame last Wednesday, Ross had scored 28 or more points in consecutive wins over Valparaiso, Indiana State, and Chicago State.
Image from ohiobobcats.com
OHIO: It’s been tough sledding for the #284th-ranked Bobcats—2-8 overall, season-opening losses to #318 Long Island University and #349 Longwood, four straight defeats heading into the holidays…not ideal. Keep an eye on sophomore guard Yaya Felder (pictured above) when OU comes up on the schedule; she’s averaging 18.7 points, which. is good for 36th in D1 basketball, five rebounds, and four assists per game.
AKRON: The Zips—with former Buffalo point guard Dominique Camp at the helm—are off to an 8-2 start, including victories over #94 Youngstown State and #119 Northern Kentucky. That’s good enough to get Akron, ranked #122 in NCAA NET, nine votes in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25. Camp’s averaging 9.8 points, 3.4 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in her new digs. Sophomore forward Reagan Bass, a 2nd-team All-MAC pick, is putting up 16.7 points and seven boards per game, as well.
EASTERN MICHIGAN: The Eagles are fast out of the gate this season, posting a 7-3 record and a #182 NCAA NET ranking with wins over #147 North Dakota State, #164 IUPUI, and #165 Xavier. EMU has a balanced squad led by sophomore guard Lachelle Austin (12.9 points, 3.1 assists per game) and redshirt junior forward Ce’Nara Skanes (12.4 points, 7.6 rebounds per game).
Image from miamiredhawks.com
MIAMI: The RedHawks have wobbled to a 4-8 record and are currently #254 in NCAA NET. Preseason 2nd-team All-MAC guard Peyton Scott is posting 13.3 points, 3.2 boards, and 3.3 assists per game. Sophomore guard Ivy Wolf (pictured above) puts up 17.5 points per contest, 60th in the country.
CENTRAL MICHIGAN: If only every day were Girl Scouts Day! That’s Dec. 3, and it’s the only day on which the 1-9 Chippewas have won this season, beating North Dakota State, 66-65. Currently #299 in NCAA NET. Freshman swing Sydney Harris is bucketing 16 points per game.
UP NEXT: UB men’s basketball catch-up; UB football Camellia Bowl preview
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We’ll miss you, Jah Muse. Thanks for stopping by, and good luck! And for the rest of you—keep an eye on your inbox, next newsletters are coming in hot. Horns up!
Thanks for reading UB In 5! Subscribe for free to receive the most news about UB women’s basketball you’ll find anywhere.
If you’re looking for football news, hang on—we’ll have a Camellia Bowl preview coming out shortly that will recap the month of December for Mo Linguist’s bunch. The game itself is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 12 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN.
We’d be remiss not to mention Becky Burke’s engagement, which made news locally. Congratulations to Coach Burke and Savannah Lesesne! Excited for them to be part of the UB community for years to come.
Determined by the number of possessions in which a player shoots from the field, attempts free throws, or commits a turnover.