The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team is loaded.
All five starters are back from last year’s team, which won the Mid-American Conference and went to the NCAA Tournament.
What’s more, the Bulls are loaded with compelling characters. They are a “rainbow coalition,” representing four countries and seven states.
Have a sliver of extra time in your sports-watching attention span? Here’s the top 10 reasons it’s worth following the scores of the UB women – or maybe even taking in a game - this season:
1. The Ringleader. Coach Felisha Legette-Jack is an emotional, intense firebrand. The paint peels from the locker-room walls during her post-loss speeches. But once she lets off her steam, all is calm. She makes those she works with and those who play for her uncomfortable. For the players who can handle it, she gets more out of them than they realize they have to give.
“If you’re comfortable, you’re in the wrong gym,” she yelled at her troops during a recent practice.
Legette-Jack is 56-40 the past three years, all winning seasons. Before she arrived, UB had nine straight non-winning seasons.
2. The Amoeba. UB plays a complex, 1-2-2 matchup-zone defense. Sometimes it looks like a 2-3, sometimes like a 3-2. It’s confounding. It’s frustrating. Just ask Ohio. The Bobcats rolled through the MAC last year, going 16-2 and scoring a league-best 77 points a game. Their only two losses were to UB, and then UB beat them a third time in the playoffs. Ohio’s point totals: 43, 58, 60.
“I just think the game is won and lost on the defensive side of the ball,” said Legette-Jack, who learned the defense from Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie.
3. The Floor General. Junior Stephanie Reid is to the Bulls what Bobby Hurley was to the great Duke Blue Devil teams of the 1990s. She’s a mere 5-foot-6, but she is a fierce, relentless competitor. She’s not the fastest Bull, but
she usually wins the team sprint drills in practice. She drives opponents to distraction. She made the winning bank shot at the buzzer in overtime last March to send UB to the NCAAs.
“She’s our general, the commander-in-chief,” Legette-Jack said. “She’s got the keys to the Mercedes.”
4. Thunder from Down Under. Reid is one of four Australians on the UB team. They were recruited by UB assistant coach Cherie Cordoba, an Aussie who played collegiately in the United States and then professionally around the world. She has been an aide to Legette-Jack for eight years. All four Aussies are outstanding students, so their adjustment to America has been smooth – mostly.
“I didn’t know that negative 10 degrees Celsius actually existed,” Reid said during her first season.
5. The scorer. Senior guard Joanna Smith was the most improved scorer in the nation last season, averaging 18.3 ppg after scoring just 5.6 ppg the year before. She’s a first-team All-MAC player. UB was fortunate to get her. The Mississippi native was being recruited by Southeastern Conference schools before breaking her femur in the spring of her junior year of high school. The SEC schools backed off. UB didn’t.
6. The Eraser. Sophomore forward Brittany Morrison is only 5-9 but she has a remarkable ability to out-battle taller players for rebounds. Think "Adrian Dantley" (for those who remember the Buffalo Braves). Morrison averaged 8.7 rebounds and 21 minutes over the last 10 games last season. If she was a 30-minute-a-game player, that would put her in the top 10 in the nation in rebounding.
“Somebody forgot to tell her she’s 5-9,” Legette-Jack said.
7. WNYers. UB has two former WNY prep stars. Junior center Cassie Oursler (Grand Island) was the No. 3 scorer last season at 8 ppg. Freshman forward Summer Hemphill figures to play right away this season.
8. Height. UB has five players between 6-1 and 6-3. They are the rim protectors in the zone defense, which allows UB’s guards to attack the ball with fanaticism. Sometimes they gave up dribble penetration. But the big trees in the lane are there to defend.
“I like tall players and I like long players,” Legette-Jack said. “I like the length this way” (stretching her arms out side to side).
9. Depth. Ten UB players averaged 10 minutes a game last season, and 13 saw regular action. Sometime it requires a Ouija board to decipher Legette-Jack’s substitution patterns. It worked out in the end. UB got 37 bench points in overcoming foul trouble in a MAC semifinal win over Akron in March.
10. The future. Smith is the only senior on the roster, but the Bulls already have her replacement. Cierra Dillard transferred from Massachusetts to UB in the spring and is sitting out this year. Dillard averaged 15.5 ppg as a sophomore last season, sixth best in the Atlantic 10 Conference.