The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team showed Monday its defense is in good shape as it heads to Cleveland to defend its Mid-American Conference title.
UB defeated Bowling Green, 61-45, in a MAC pre-quarterfinal at Alumni Arena. The Bulls held the Falcons 19 points under their season average.
UB (21-9), the No. 7 seed, advanced to a quarterfinal game against second-seeded Ball State at about 5 p.m. Wednesday in Quicken Loans Arena.
“They left it out there,” UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack said of her team. “Their oneness flowed. Their box out was there. Their transition was there. We made mistakes. We didn’t make a lot of shots. But we kept playing and stayed inspired. I’m really excited to be in this locker room with this team.”
The Bulls will be a sizable underdog to Ball State, which won at UB, 89-75, on Jan. 25.
But UB pulled off three upsets in Cleveland last year to become the first No. 8 seed to win the conference title. The Bulls did it with dominating defense, and that remains the team’s strength.
UB is ranked third in the MAC in points allowed and second in shooting percentage allowed. UB held 10th-seeded Bowling Green (8-23) to 33 percent shooting and 3-of-17 shooting from three-point range. UB shot only 35 percent and made 4 of 17 threes.
“I thought it was great,” Legette-Jack said of her defense, “especially when we missed about nine layups. When you’re playing defense so intense and so exciting and so unified, when you get that ball, you throw it at that rim and it bounces so hard because you don’t want to change that rhythm. I thought the defense was great.”
Star scorer: Senior guard JoAnna Smith led UB with 24 points, 22 in the second half. She stands No. 7 on UB’s all-time scoring list with 1,364 points, 19 shy of the sixth spot.
UB stats: Junior Stephanie Reid had 12 points, nine assists and just one turnover. She stands fifth in the nation this season in assists per game at 7.3. She moved into third place on UB’s all-time assist list with 459. . . . UB got 16 points from junior center Cassie Oursler and outrebounded the Falcons, 47-35.
Lineup change: UB junior Katerine Ups started the first 13 games, then lost her starting job to freshman Theresa Onwuka for 10 games. Ups has been back in the starting lineup the past seven games. Onwuka averaged 7.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in conference. Ups has averaged 2.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists the last seven. Legette-Jack praised the intangibles Ups provides.
“She understands exactly what I’m talking about,” the coach said. “She gets me. She’s just a smart player. She knows how to share with the team exactly what we’re trying to do. I value her defense. I value her communication skill set. . . . She doesn’t care about anything. She’s about the team. She’s our defensive captain.”
In the house: Attendance was 1,221 at Alumni Arena.
Up next: Ball State went 14-4 in conference and has a more potent offense than UB, which went 10-8. Ball State ranks third in scoring (78.3 ppg) and second in both field-goal percentage (.440) and three-point shooting percentage (.361). Ball State has the best low post player in the conference in senior Renee Bennett, who ranks fifth in the MAC in scoring (19.2) and fourth in rebounding (9.1). Point guard Carmen Grande ranks third in the nation in assists at 7.6 a game. Wing Moriah Monaco averages 15.7 ppg and torched UB for a career-high 35 points in the first meeting.
Legette-Jack on the Cardinals: “Great team. Great point guard. Great post player. Great swing player. They have a 1-2-3 punch like we do. They’re very disciplined. . . . They got us here. They’re well coached. They’re a very good team. It’s going to be a great matchup.”