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UB, Bona headed to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament

There was celebration from Amherst to Allegany for women’s college basketball Monday night.

The University at Buffalo found out it will play at ninth-ranked Ohio State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Division I women’s basketball tournament.

And in a surprise decision, St. Bonaventure’s women were not snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee. The Bonnies earned an at-large bid for the tournament and will travel to Corvallis, Ore., for a first-round game Friday against Oklahoma State.

Like the Bona men’s team, which was snubbed from getting a men’s tournament bid on Sunday night, Bona’s women suffered an upset loss in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

That created pessimism in the Southern Tier, despite the fact the Bonnies were 23-7, 16-0 at home and ranked No. 34 in the country in the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index.

“Relief, excitement, joy,” said Bona coach Jim Crowley, when asked his reaction. “I give the committee a ton of credit for seeing our body of work for what it was, and that to me is deserving of this bid.”

“I love it,” said UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack of the first-ever two-invitation year for Big 4 teams to the women’s tournament.

“I love the work he’s done,” Legette-Jack said of Crowley. “He’s done it over and over and over again. He had one blemish on his record, but no one ever has come to his school and beat them. It’s so awesome. It says Western New York women’s basketball is alive and well.”

UB (20-13) scored three upsets en route to the Mid-American Conference title on Saturday. The Bulls beat Central Michigan in an overtime thriller for the title, winning on a 10-foot bank shot at the buzzer by sophomore guard Stephanie Reid. It is UB’s first-ever trip to the women’s NCAA tournament.

UB is seeded No. 14 in the Sioux Falls Region. Ohio State (24-7) is seeded No. 3. The game will be played at 2:30 p.m. Ohio State is averaging 86.7 points a game, third most in the nation.

Bona earned the No. 10 seed and will play Oklahoma State (21-9) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Oklahoma State is the No. 7 seed in the Dallas Region. The Bonnies’ last NCAA trip was in 2012. Oklahoma State, which finished fourth in the Big 12 Conference, is making its fourth straight NCAA appearance.

Crowley acknowledged the disappointing snub of the men’s team made him a little more pessimistic about his team’s chances.

“Yeah it did,” he said. “But when you have a week to scour over our numbers, you find everything you can. We had very similar résumés to the guys. But their bubble was much bigger than ours, which obviously helped us.”

Crowley meant there were a bigger group of teams on the men’s side challenging for the final few spots in the field.

Bona posted a winning record (3-2) against teams ranked in the top 50 in the RPI. It beat UB. It also had a marquee nonconference win over James Madison (27-5), which earned its third straight NCAA berth Monday night.

“I knew the JMU win back in December was big,” Crowley said. “The first thing I said to the team after that game was you just put yourselves in March conversation. Now what do you do with it?”

“We have a lot of pride in this group,” Crowley said. “They came in after the great run we had before in 2012 and had to live in that shadow for a little while. … But the commitment they made at the end of last year to go for it, and investing in fully, to get this reward, I’m really proud of them.”

The only anxiety for UB in watching the televised selection show was where it would go. The Bulls had an automatic bid in hand thanks to the Mid-American Conference title it earned in Cleveland.

“I wish I could play,” said Legette-Jack, a former great player at Syracuse. “To see how excited they are, makes me want to get out there again. I just love the fact we’re playing. It really doesn’t matter where.”

“It’s exciting,” said Reid. “We really can’t get out of Ohio, but it’s fine. It’s familiar territory for us, and we’re going to go out there and put up a fight.”

UB has not faced a team as potent offensively as Ohio State. But the Bulls are known for their defense. They ranked third in the MAC in points allowed, at just 62.2 points a game.

“They’re very fast, they’re very aggressive,” Legette-Jack said. “They can shoot the ball. They’ve got a good inside-outside game.”

“We’re a great defensive team,” Reid said. “We work really hard. Defense is all about heart. We’ve kept good scoring teams down, and I think we can do it again.”