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WOOLLEY + WILSON = UB WOMEN WIN
Plus: UB men's basketball looking for answers after 21-point home beatdown by Ohio
The college basketball season—while more condensed than usual—remains a marathon, not a sprint.
Like a kaleidoscope, the prospects of the Buffalo’s men’s and women’s basketball seasons change as the environments themselves rotate. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow.
So with that in mind, let’s ask ourselves a calm, measured question:
DOES THE EMERGENCE OF SANIAA WILSON CHANGE EVERYTHING FOR UB WOMEN’S BASKETBALL?
Image from ubbulls.com
A lot of good things happened for the Bulls (12-7 overall, 6-3 in Mid-American Conference play) in their 68-61 victory over conference rival Northern Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Arena.
First of all, it was a win. Always important, but particularly because UB had lost three games in a row. Buffalo held the Huskies (7-10, 4-5), notorious long-range bombers, to 37 percent shooting from the floor and 24 percent from three.
Freshman guard Georgia Woolley continued her scoring rampage. Woolley dropped 18 of her career-high 26 points in the first half, helping Buffalo build a 36-24 lead. The young star from Brisbane, Australia has 50 points over her past two games and is averaging over 15 points per game in MAC play.
Hemphill, Christie put in work. While their individual numbers weren’t gaudy, starting forwards Summer Hemphill and Loren Christie combined for 57 minutes, 14 points on efficient six-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists, and two blocks. They were very physical around the basket, and helped cover for injured forward Adebola Adeyeye, who watched from the bench with a brace on her right knee.
Hello, Saniaa! Welcome Saniaa Wilson (pictured above) to the Bulls, everyone—and not a moment too soon. After missing the first half of the season with an injury, the freshman forward—a big-time star at Bishop Kearney High School in Rochester—made her first appearance in Blue and White and logged 22 minutes, scored 12 points, grabbed seven boards, and blocked two shots, including a dramatic stuff of a three-point attempt by NIU’s Janae Poisson at the end of the third quarter. She scored 10 of her 12 points in the second half, including eight in a row to cap the third.
The Huskies played without injured All-MAC 2nd Team guard Chelby Koker, who leads the team in scoring and averages 40 percent from three-point range.
UB—down Adeyeye, who averages seven points and seven boards per game, as well as guards Cheyenne McEvans, Jazmine Young, and center Elena Gaba—isn’t in position to offer much sympathy.
Let’s consider the intriguing emergence of Wilson by first recounting the ongoing struggles of Dyaisha Fair.
Carrying that weight
Image from ubbulls.com
Fair (pictured above), a junior guard and the country’s eighth-leading scorer (21.7 points per game), went four-of-18 from the field and 0-for-seven from three for 16 points in the victory.
The struggle is real. She’s shooting 17 percent from three and 29 percent overall in her past six games, while playing 228 out of 240 possible minutes. With a short, injury-riddled bench, there hasn’t been the guard depth to give her a break.
Of course, Fair contributes in other ways—against NIU, for example, she had six assists, six rebounds, and three steals. She was eight-for-eight from the free-throw line, and had a nifty no-look assist in transition and a crucial layup over the final 1:47 that helped ice the game.
Fair continues to carry herself with the confidence and authority of the team’s floor general. She worked well with Woolley on Saturday as co-initiators of the offense while point guard Dominique Camp—who played 23 minutes, her fewest since Dec. 20—spent time on the bench.
But Buffalo really needs Fair to score.
Cutting it closer than it needed to be
Image from ubbulls.com
Despite the fact the Bulls played stifling defense—the Huskies were held to one point over a 6:35 stretch straddling the first and second quarter; three points in 5:52 between the second and third quarters; and six points in five minutes during the fourth quarter—Northern Illinois cut the lead to two points at 58-56 with 2:28 remaining in the game.
It’s great to see Woolley (pictured above) respond with a drive and a layup to extend that late two-point lead to 60-56.
Hemphill ‘s subsequent steal that launched a breathless Woolley-to-Fair-back-to-Hemphill transition bucket was magnificent.
Yet another Woolley drive-and-score with a minute remaining helped bolster the freshman’s growing reputation as an ice-cold killer.
Fair’s the trump card, though. When she gets hot, this team explodes If she scores at her season average, this game isn’t close.
Enter the kaleidoscope
But that’s the kaleidoscope: the view keeps changing. Wilson and Woolley helped turn the aperture on Saturday.
Does the rotation evolve? The emergence of Wilson (6’0) and the continued strong play of Woolley (5’11), Hemphill (6’1) and Christie (6’3) give Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack more leeway to play a bigger lineup. Does this help get Fair more in-game rest?
Are the Bulls developing depth in real time? Wilson was obviously a revelation. Six-foot-one guard Nia Jordan logged 10 minutes after missing the Ball State game and playing just two minutes against Ohio. Ramatoulaye Keita, a 5’11 forward, logged eight minutes, the third time in four games she’s played at least seven. Neither Jordan nor Keita had an impact—they combined for two rebounds—but their presence suggests they’re earning Legette-Jack’s trust.
Is Camp the wild card? Camp had an off-game on Saturday (0 points, one assist), but is a proven distributor—she tied a school record with 16 assists against CMU, and is fourth in the MAC in dimes per game (4.5). When she’s on, does that give Fair and Woolley breathers, especially if the Bulls go big?
Who—if anyone—is coming back, and when? Does Adeyeye play again this season? Gaba? Is there a timetable for Young or McEvans? None of these issues have been discussed publicly.
As we stand, UB is tied with Akron (9-6, 6-3) for third in the MAC, two-and-a-half games behind Toledo. Buffalo has slipped to 71st in the NCAA NET rankings, and is 19th in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25. There’s work to be done.
After all of the injuries and the team’s first three-game losing streak since February 2020, the NIU win offers more new angles for the season. As the great Ray Davies once noted, you just can’t stop it—the world keeps going ‘round.
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What happens next
Image from emueagles.com
After six games in 13 days, the Bulls get a bit of a rest. UB’s next game is Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Eastern Michigan (5-11, 2-7). The Eagles beat Miami (Ohio), 80-69, in Oxford yesterday.
A pair of record-setting performances from redshirt senior Oklahoma State transfer Areanna Combs (pictured above) and redshirt sophomore Ce'Nara Skanes, a transfer from FIU, was enough to lift the Eastern Michigan University women's basketball team over Miami University, 80-69, today, Jan. 29, inside Millett Hall.
The Eagles (5-11, 2-7 MAC) had three players score in double figures, led by Combs, who had 29 points, eight rebounds and three steals. Skanes tacked on a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman Lachelle Austin helped out with 10 points and four steals.
The Eastern Michigan defense was a problem in Saturday's game, forcing 20 Miami turnovers, while the Eagles committed just 13 of their own. Those takeaways turned into 24 points on the offensive end of the floor.
Game time is 7 p.m. at the George Gervin GameAbover Center. The contest can be viewed on ESPN3.
“I’VE GOT NO EXCUSES:” WHITESELL NOT HAPPY AS UB MEN ARE TROUNCED AT HOME BY OHIO, 74-53
Image from ubbulls.com
After a four-game winning streak, the UB men’s basketball team entered this week with a chance to take the MAC by the horns, so to speak: wins in a road visit at conference-leading Toledo (17-4, 9-1) on Tuesday and a home matchup with second-place Ohio (16-3, 7-1) on Friday would plant Buffalo in first place. The Bulls (10-8, 4-4), preseason picks to win the league, would be right where they belong—at the top.
That, uh, is not what happened. Toldeo picked up an 11-point win at the Savage Arena earlier this week, and yesterday, the Bobcats proved to be a level above their hosts in a dominating 74-53 victory.
“I’m just incredibly disappointed in our effort tonight,” UB coach Jim Whitesell said. “That’d be the best way to sum it up, as simple as that.
The Bobcats (16-3, 7-1) kept the Bulls from establishing much in the way of offensive consistency, as UB finished 21 for 55 (38.2%) from the floor, including 5 for 21 on 3-pointers. The Bulls couldn’t find a flow in their running game, couldn’t find a way to manage second and third shots – UB scored only eight points off second-chance shots -- and the Bulls finished with nine assists and 16 turnovers against the Bobcats.
The Bulls were the preseason pick to win the MAC Tournament this season, but after back-to-back losses to Toledo and to Ohio, who are now one and two in the 12-team MAC standings, the Bulls are tied for fifth with Ball State. UB has to take the next week to evaluate how it can get back into the contention fold with the Rockets and the Bobcats – teams that have also become favorites to win the MAC, particularly after wins this week against the Bulls.
“I’ve got no excuses,” Whitesell said. “We’ve got to get better. It’s as simple as that. We’ve got to own it. We’ve got to work our butt off to get back into this thing.”
UB was down by 20 points just 26 seconds into the second half after Ohio’s Miles Brown popped a corner three—a shot that had him chuckling as he jogged back down court.
Buffalo talked a lot about effort after the game—the clearly miffed Whitesell mentioned the need to “work out butt off,” and swingmen Jeenathan Williams and Maceo Jack discussed aggressiveness (or the lack thereof) and “looking in the mirror,” respectively.
An offense struggling to find itself
Image from ubbulls.com
Running a cohesive offense would help, too. The Bulls had nine assists on 21 field goals—they’re 216th in the country on assists per field goals made.
The issues rearing their ugly heads on Friday were myriad:
Sophomore forward David Skogman blossomed when star big man Josh Mballa was briefly sidelined in early January. Since Mballa’s return on Jan. 11, neither have been particularly effective—at least not by the standards they’ve set for themselves.
Mballa is 12-of-36 from the floor and has just 34 rebounds in his last five games—over two boards below his 8.3 per game average at the end of December. This from a guy who averaged over 15 points and 10 rebounds per game in 2020-21.
Skogman, meanwhile, is averaging about seven points and five rebounds over his last three games. While efficient, he’s shown he’s capable of more.
We hate picking on Maceo Jack (pictured above), because we like his game, but his numbers in January—40 percent shooting, 24 percent from three, an assist and two offensive boards per game—are rough. He doesn’t get many defensive rebounds; he doesn’t force many steals. You wonder if he’d benefit from steadier playing time without the quick hook—he’s down near 20 minutes a game—but it’s admittedly tough to justify.
Fellow senior Keishawn Brewton’s also looking for answers. Brewton is shooting 34 percent from the floor and 25 percent from three in January, doesn’t rebound, and isn’t a consistent distributor. The other options at the two-guard, like freshman Curtis Jones and Kidtrell Blocker or upperclassmen Ty Perry and Jamon Bivens, currently don’t offer much more.
Williams, as always, has been getting his buckets, but games like Friday’s show how he can be limited when he’s forced to play outside the flow of a functional offense.
Point guard Ronaldo Segu has just three assists over the past two games, both losses, which may be a result of his own decision-making, or his own growing distrust in his teammates’ ability to finish.
That’s pure speculation, of course, but consider that Segu’s taken 53 field goal attempts over his past four contests. It’s the second time this season, and only the third time in his career, that he’s been so aggressive searching for his own shot. Either he believes he needs to take a bigger piece of the scoring load, or he’s being told to do so.
When you point the finger at someone else, you’re pointing three fingers back at yourself
Image from The Buffalo News
Look, let’s not overstate the issues: Buffalo’s advanced offensive stats are pretty good, and they live and die by pace. They’re still one of the top 30 teams in the country in adjusted tempo, getting nearly four more possessions per game than the average D1 squad.
Against the Rockets and the Bobcats, two of the MAC’s better defensive teams, the Bulls showed an uncharacteristic combination of poor shooting, poor execution, and poor ball security. Those are all pace-killers.
What you get, then, is essentially a poor man’s version of what this team can be.
So what’s the answer? “Try harder?”
That seems a bit simplistic.
Effort may have been an issue on Friday, but UB held both Toledo and Ohio to roughly their season scoring averages. Buffalo wasn’t out-rebounded in either game. A win over Toledo was within the Bulls’ grasp until the final seven minutes of the contest.
We mentioned this point earlier in the week, and it remains true: UB needs to get the most out of its talent at hand, and that’s not happening.
It’s all well and good for Whitesell to be angry on Friday, but there’s a school of thought that a team’s lack of effort or energy reflects as poorly on the coaching staff as it does on the players. Young men who feel unprepared, overwhelmed, and unable to get answers will sometimes fade in the face of adversity.
That’s not just on them.
Buffalo doesn’t play again for a week. There’s time for Whitesell and his brain trust to figure this thing out.
Remember the kaleidoscope
Image from ubbulls.com
But the worm can turn, to use a slightly gross figure of speech: all things being equal, the Bulls should not lose a game for the next month.
Here’s where UB stands:
Buffalo (10-8, 4-4). Fifth in the MAC, 130th in NCAA NET, +4.02 AdjEM*
Now let’s look at its next seven opponents:
Central Michigan (3-13, 2-3). Eighth in the MAC, 332nd in NCAA NET, -15.9 AdjEM
Eastern Michigan (8-11, 3-5). Ninth in the MAC, 257th in NCAA NET, -7.47 AdjEM
Ball State (10-10, 5-4). Fifth in the MAC, 247th in NCAA NET, -5.36 AdjEM
Bowling Green (11-10, 4-6). Seventh in the MAC, 233rd in NCAA NET, -4.51 AdjEM
Western Michigan (4-16, 0-9). Twelfth in the MAC, 335th in NCAA NET, -15.59 AdjEM
Miami (Ohio) (9-10, 3-5). Tenth in the MAC, 222nd in NCAA NET, -3.02 AdjEM
Northern Illinois (5-13, 2-6).** Eleventh in the MAC, 300th in NCAA NET, -12.33 AdjEM
Then it’s Toledo (60th in NCAA NET, +11.62) at home and Kent State (188th in NCAA NET, -0.97) on the road. That’s the regular season, and you see where the chips fall.
Even winning 10 in a row probably won’t be enough to knock the Rockets out of the top seed for the MAC tournament.
It would send a hell of a message, though, wouldn’t it? So let’s keep an open mind, folks.
Up Next: On the Road to Central Michigan
Image from cmuchippewas.com
Those who lived in Buffalo prior to, say, the early 2000s remember Chippewa Street as an ugly, seedy place that would need a lot of work before it could be productive again.
That’s kind of the situation the Central Michigan Chippewas, one of the worst men’s basketball teams in the country and the Bulls’ host on Saturday, Feb. 5, are currently in.
But they did win on Saturday! From cmuchippewas.com:
Balanced scoring and getting it done during what first-year Central Michigan men's basketball coach Tony Barbee calls 'winning time.'
Ralph Bissainthe (pictured above) scored 17 points to lead four Chippewas in double figures as CMU held on for a gritty 69-63 Mid-American Conference victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday at the Huskies' Convocation Center.
It was CMU's first win since a Dec. 29 victory at Kent State as it improved to 3-13, 2-3 MAC. NIU is 5-12, 2-5.
Six of CMU's previous eight games had been postponed and it had dropped the two games it had played during that stretch.
"Our guys have stayed positive through all the adversity that we've had, the illnesses and the starts and stops, and guys out with injuries and all that stuff," Barbee said, "but they've stayed the course and kept working and they're starting to (show) what winning basketball is like.
"We talk about it, in the last four minutes, is their will going to be greater than your will? Let's impose our will. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but guys willed the ball into the basket."
Harrison Henderson added 16 points, Kevin Miller had 14, and Cameron Healy finished with 11 for the Chippewas, who led by 12, 53-41, with under nine minutes to play.
Tipoff is 4:30 p.m. TV is TBD.
*Adjusted efficiency margin is, without getting too deep into math that I don’t understand, the difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency, representing the number of points the team would be expected to outscore or be outscored by the average D-I team over 100 possessions.
**UB plays NIU twice in a row at the end of February—on the 24th and 26th.
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