There was really only one theme at practice this past week. Defense.
After an 0-2 start, including some disappointing defense at Holy Cross, coach Cheryl Dozier drilled her University at Buffalo women's basketball team in the fine art of defending this holiday week.
The focus paid off, as the Bulls earned their first win of the year, 54-45, over Lafayette (1-2) in front of 1,327 in HSBC Arena on Saturday afternoon.
"Believe me, we spent about four hours in film this week talking about our defense," Dozier said. "We played the type of aggressive defensive game that I want us to play. We didn't step back off those handoffs. We denied them and we really tried to get into Lafayette's shorts. . . . Give our kids a lot of credit, they contested almost every shot."
Lafayette shot just 34 percent and the Bulls had a hand in the face of nearly every shooter. Particularly effective was the Bulls' perimeter defense, which fought through screens to stay close to ball handlers, frustrating the Leopards' attempts to run their offense.
"This is a new offense for us," said Lafayette coach Tammy Smith. "We just put it in preseason of this year. It's a work in progress. We've got to understand that. We've got to keep our heads up and do the things we need to against that type of pressure. We're not used to that type of pressure out on guards and we've got to do a better job taking care of the ball."
The Bulls would like to take better care of the ball, too. UB committed 21 turnovers, often through careless passes, which led to 12 Lafayette points. It was careless turnovers that nearly cost the Bulls their hard-earned double-digit second-half lead.
After taking a 22-17 halftime lead, The Bulls opened up an 11-point lead five minutes into the second half. But the Leopards came back starting with a three-point shot after the Bulls failed to block out a shooter on the initial shot. Three straight turnovers and one offensive foul by the Bulls allowed the Leopards to pull within four points, 33-29, with about 12 minutes left to play.
The Bulls then buckled down defensively and started scoring easy buckets in transition to keep a healthy distance.
"We just came together and kept our composure," senior guard Allison Bennett said. "We came together as team and settled down. Sometimes with a lot of freshmen you get into a rush. We just brought it together and focused on our defense . . . played it one possession at a time and also looked to run the floor more in transition because they weren't getting back as well."
Sophomore forward Viorica Badinici, a junior college transfer originally from Finland, led the Bulls with 13 points and seven rebounds. She was 2 for 3 from the three-point line and proved she can score from anywhere on the floor.
"I just had a good night," Badinici. "There's nothing else to it. I just had open looks to the basket and I took them."
"She's a kid that when we recruited her is what most people say is a typical European kid," Dozier said. "She wants to face up more than she wants to play with her back to the basket. She's so much more comfortable with that and we give her the green light in any trail situation or any catch at the top of the key. I think the one thing that I do love about Vio is that she's not afraid to shoot it. You've got to have kids on your team like that."
There were plenty of other players who were willing to shoot, too. All nine Bulls who got into the game scored, with freshman Stephanie Bennett scoring nine with Allison Bennett and Brooke Meunier each adding seven.