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UB WOMEN'S HOOPS: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED
After a year of upheaval, Becky Burke's bunch is headed back to the MAC tournament.
Image from ubbulls.com
This afternoon, with the final seconds ticking off of the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team’s season-ending, Mid-American Conference postseason berth-clinching 72-67 win over Western Michigan at Alumni Arena, head coach Becky Burke’s demeanor changed—in an instant—from brow-furrowed strategist to number-one fan.
Burke broke into a wide grin. She pumped her arms, exhorting the crowd of 1,650 to join the celebration. As the buzzer sounded, Burke clenched her fists, barked at forward Emerita Maishaire and guard Caelen Ellis, threw an arm around redshirt junior Chelia Watson—the transfer who joined the first-year coach at Buffalo after both spent the previous season at USC Upstate—and hugged fifth year senior Jazmine Young.
Young, fittingly, as the lone holdout from last season’s MAC champions, had pulled down the final rebound. She was still holding the game ball.
Nice symmetry there.
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You Gotta Have Heart
Image from ubbulls.com
An outsider looking in could roll their eyes cynically at a team that finished the season 12-15 overall and 7-11 in MAC play, earning the eighth of eight conference playoff berths in the last game of the season, over another 7-11 team missing one of the most prolific scorers in the country.
After all, this program had been to the NCAA Tournament four times in the previous six seasons, and hadn’t won fewer than eight conference games since 2012.
Shouldn’t the bar be a little higher?
That cynic can go jump in Lake Erie. Consider what this program went through over the past calendar year:
Felisha Legette-Jack, the winningest women’s basketball coach in school history, left for her alma mater, Syracuse. She took four players and a highly touted recruit with her, including guard Dyaisha Fair, the best player in the conference, and MAC Freshman of the Year Georgia Woolley.
With Jack gone, the roster emptied out. Of 15 players on the 2021-22 team that won the MAC title and gave #18 Tennessee a pretty good game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 14 transferred or graduated. Young was the lone holdout.
Burke—the 2022 Big South Coach of the Year at USC Upstate—was hired on April 6 and had to immediately refill the roster. She brought in five players with previous Division 1 experience, three who played D2 ball, two freshmen, and a walk-on. When three of the former D1 players were either sidelined for the season or left the team entirely, Burke recruited a UB volleyball player to add height and depth.
After losing three of the first four games on the 2022-23 season, the Bulls won seven of their next eight. The lack of experience and depth, however, grabbed the team like a phantom, and from Jan. 18 to Feb. 23, Buffalo lost 10 of 11 games. Five of those losses came by a frustrating five points or less. UB fell to 10th in the MAC.
Then, the switch flipped. Those close losses turned into big wins—including blowouts of a very good Bowling Green team and an Akron squad that previously beat the Bulls by 22 points—as UB won its final three to squeak into the postseason.
What Will We Remember About the 2022-23 UB Women’s Basketball Season?
Image from ubbulls.com
It was a year that was supposed to be a transition between the old guard and the new, likely to be forgettable.
Instead, we discovered an admirable bunch of never-quit, never-leave-the-court players—Young, guards Re’Shawna Stone and Zakiyah Winfield (pictured above), forwards Emerita Mashaire and Hattie Ogden, and swing Latrice Perkins—who ate minutes, game after game, only to smiled with blood in their teeth?
Stone—the 2021-22 Division 2 Player of the Year at national champion Glenville State—averaged 22.3 points from Feb. 1 through the end of the season, a nine-game stretch in which Buffalo won four games and salvaged its season. Re’Shawna is 74th in the country in scoring, averaging 17.4 points per game.
Winfield—Stone’s teammate at Glenville State—averaged a double-double this season with 14.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. She’s 17th in the country in rebounds, the nation’s leading guard, and also helped bring over a dozen high school kids from her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, to Saturday’s game. She’s also sixth in the country in minutes per game (Stone is eighth).
Young, who fought for minutes behind Fair, Woolley, and Dominique Camp (now the point guard at Akron) last season, scored 13.7 points and averaged three rebounds in over 35 minutes per game—58th in D1.
Mashaire, a transfer from Cincinnati, didn’t have gaudy stats, but played over 30 minutes a game and, as one of the lone six-foot players on the team, was often stuck defending bigger players in the paint. She held her own and was an emotional leader on the court.
Ogden didn’t really start getting regular minutes until late January, when forward Kayla Salmons left the team, but she quickly established herself as a lethal three-point shooter, bombing away at well over 40 percent from behind the arc. At 6’2, Ogden has evolved over the past few weeks into a much more effective rebounder—she grabbed 33 over her last four games—and moves much better off the ball. She’s likely to be Buffalo’s next shining star.
What can you say about Latrice Perkins? Hounded by injuries, the transfer from Charleston University averaged 20 minutes per game as UB’s lone reliable sub and played all over the court. By Saturday, she was checking in with one leg tightly wrapped and every time she hit the floor it was questionable if she would pop back up—she left the win over Akron on Wednesday late in the game with what looked like another injury—but she showed both intense toughness and, on occasion, brilliant ability as a facilitator and finisher.
Image from ubbulls.com
The win over Western Michigan was indicative of this bunch: hot start, build a lead, and then hold on with two hands as the pressure mounted.
The Bulls opened the game on a 7-0 run, capped by a triple from Stone, to take an early lead. Western Michigan answered with back-to-back baskets to pull within three, but Ogden answered with a deep three to put UB up 10-4 at the first media timeout. The Broncos used a 7-1 run to tie the game at 11 before Perkins got a bucket plus the foul to put UB back on top. Later, Winfield sliced to the basket for a layup off glass and Stone beat the buzzer with a beautiful reverse layup to give the Bulls an 18-16 lead at the end of the first.
Western Michigan opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run to cut the UB lead to two and force a timeout at the 6:59 mark. The Broncos then retook the lead on a three before Winfield knocked down a mid-range jumper and Ogden and Winfield drilled back-to-back triples to put UB up 49-45 at the media timeout. Buffalo continued to attack as Perkins and Stone scored on a pair of layups before Young got a long two to drop from the win and Stone finished an acrobatic layup off glass through contact to give Buffalo a 61-52 lead at the end of the third.
Western Michigan made a pair of threes on their opening two possessions to cut the UB lead to three early in the fourth quarter. Both defenses locked down for a stretch before Stone finished a pair of tough layups to put Buffalo up 65-59 at the final media timeout. The Broncos used a 6-1 run to pull within two with 1:26 remaining but that would be as close as they would get as the Bulls converted at the charity stripe and came up with a pair of big stops in the final seconds to secure the victory.
Buffalo will face conference champion Toledo on Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland (see full schedule here).
In all likelihood, this is where the story ends. The Rockets haven’t lost since Jan. 18, won 15 of their last 16 games, and beat Buffalo by 18 points on Feb. 8. Not too many people will be betting on the Bulls.
We’ll see what happens.
Until then, what hearts. What a coach. What a team.
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