NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
The turning point for the University at Buffalo women’s basketball program came on June 15, 2012, when former athletic director Danny White hired Felisha Legette-Jack as head coach. UB had endured nine straight nonwinning seasons. It had gone 40-85 over the previous four seasons. Legette-Jack had just been fired from Indiana. Nobody else was hiring her at that point. She went 12-20 her first year. The last three seasons she has led UB to records of 17-13, 19-13 and now 20-13. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after the Bulls lost 76 percent of their scoring and 71 percent of their rebounding from last year’s squad. But Legette-Jack and her staff have recruited a deep, young roster that has grown up fast. The future is very bright for UB.
Defense is the foundation of Legette-Jack’s program at UB.
The Bulls play a matchup zone that is complicated to learn and has an amoeba-like nature. Is it a 1-2-2? A 3-2? A 2-3? It looks different depending on the game. Think of how Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse teams confound and strangle opposing offenses with the 2-3 zone. That’s kind of what UB does. It’s not always pretty, but it’s effective. UB has ranked among the top five in the Mid-American Conference in field-goal percentage defense and steals each of Legette-Jack’s four seasons. With only two returning starters, UB had to rely more on offense than defense early in the year. But the fangs in the FLJ zone have grown back. Not count- ing the wild win over Akron last week, the Bulls have allowed only 54 ppg the last 14 games. Joanna Smith, junior guard from Mississippi, is an elite athlete who made first-team all-MAC. She averages 18 ppg and is a threat from the perimeter, driving to the rim and in transition. The catalyst of the offense is point guard Stephanie Reid, a sophomore from Australia. She made the all-MAC defensive team. Grand Island native Cassie Oursler, a 6-3 junior, gives UB a standout post player. The emergence of 5-7 power forward Brittany Morrison has been a huge boost in the low post. Gabi Bade, freshman guard from California, is an athletic play-maker. The bench is incredibly deep, with 13 players seeing at least 7 minutes a game.
This will be the biggest challenge of the year for the UB defense. Ohio State ranks ninth in the nation and finished second in the Big Ten Conference. The Buckeyes rank third in the nation in scoring, averaging 86.7 points a game. They put up 117 on Illinois last month and 94 on Maryland, which was ranked fifth at the time. They have scored more than 90 points 14 times this year. Kelsey Mitchell, a 5-8 sophomore guard, ranks fourth in the nation in scoring at 25.7 ppg. She put up 43 on Rutgers last week. She can score from almost anywhere on the court. She set an NCAA record for three-pointers made in a season as a freshman and was National Freshman of the Year in 2014-15. Ameryst Alston, a 5-9 senior guard, ranks 49th in the nation in scoring at 18.6 ppg. The Buckeyes have a ton of size, too. Alexa Hart, a 6-3 sophomore, ranks No. 2 in the nation in field-goal percentage at .648. She averages 11.5 ppg. Shayla Cooper, a 6-2 junior, averages 13.3 ppg. Ohio State has won 20 of its last 21 games at home. Head coach Kevin McGuff is in his third year in Columbus and has taken the Buckeyes to the NCAAs each of the last two seasons. He took Xavier to the NCAAs six times in a nine-year stint at the Ohio school, and that included a trip to the Elite Eight in 2010. This is Ohio State’s 23rd trip to the NCAA Tournament. The one concern is that Alston has had a sore wrist of late.
This probably won’t be a pretty result for UB. But the Bulls will return all five starters next season and graduate only one senior. They will be even better next year.
Ohio State 85, UB 60.