CLEVELAND - The University at Buffalo’s Upset Kids did it again Wednesday afternoon.
The seventh-seeded Bulls women’s basketball team knocked off No. 2-seeded Ball State, 69-65, in the quarterfinals of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Last year, UB entered the post-season as the No. 8 seed and upset the Nos. 1, 5 and 2 seeds en route to its first-ever MAC title.
Is another magical run in the cards? For one day, anyway, the answer was yes.
This much is certain: UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack gets her team to play with no fear in the postseason. UB was waxed at home by Ball State, 89-75, in January. Ball State was superior to UB in virtually every offensive category this season. Legette-Jack said those were the last things she wanted her players worrying about.
“No disrespect to anybody,” Legette-Jack said, “but the more we think about the other team and what they’ve done to us and what they can do to us, it puts fear in our spirit. And you can’t have both. You can’t have faith and fear. So we decided we’re going to trust who we are and let the chips fall where they may.”
UB moves on to a semifinal meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday against No. 6 Toledo.
“I could almost give you Felisha’s pre-game talk,” said Ball State coach Brady Sallee. “We’re right where we were last year. This is our time. We did the same thing last year. . . . To her and her kids’ credit, they drink that Kool-Aid, man. It’s impressive, because they get here and play so doggone well. And I don’t think we played poorly.”
UB (22-9) played to its strengths – defense and rebounding – in leading for almost the entire game.
UB is in the top three in the MAC in virtually every defensive category. The Bulls held Ball State 13 points under its season average.
UB is 14th in the nation in offensive rebounding. Even though Ball State was the No. 1 defensive rebounding team in the MAC, it was swarmed by the waves of UB athletes crashing the boards.
UB held a 44-33 overall edge in rebounding and a 17-8 edge in offensive boards. The UB advantage in second-chance points was 17-8.
“Rebounding really decided the game,” Sallee said. “They beat us in the toughness categories.”
UB’s zone defense held 6-foot-5, first-team all-MAC center Renee Bennett to eight points, 10 under her season average. Ball State guard Moriah Monaco, who torched UB for 35 points in January, was sensational again. She scored 27 and hit seven threes, despite the fact UB had a hand in her face on most of her shots. Still, Ball State’s shooting percentage of 40.7 was under its season average (44.8).
“Last time we played them they had a lot of open shots where a hand wasn’t in their face,” said UB senior JoAnna Smith. “We did a good job knowing what they do well and how we can defend it. The whole team came out locked in and ready on defense. I think defense is what sustained us today.”
UB junior point guard Stephanie Reid had 18 points and six assists. She made 7 of 8 free throws in the final 33 seconds to seal the victory. Smith, the senior guard, had 14 points and nine rebounds.
But UB’s offense was balanced, patient and worked mostly for good shots against Ball State’s zone. Other contributors’ points and rebounds: Cassie Oursler (9-8), Mariah Suchan (8-8), Katherine Ups (6-6), Summer Hemphill (7-4).
“Ball State’s a special team,” Legette-Jack said. “They are enormous. They go into that 2-1-2 jumping-jack defense, it’s really hard to navigate through that. But I shared with the team: Attack anyway. Even if you cannot see, it’s important to attack. We always talk about the game being a microcosm of life. If you face the opponent and you back away, they win. If you keep going forward, you might discover you may be open or your teammates may be open.”
The No. 1 seed in the field, Central Michigan, also was knocked out, losing to Western Michigan in a quarterfinal.
“We know anything can happen at this tournament,” Reid said. “You saw the eighth seed knock off the No. 1 seed. At any given time, any team can step up and win. We want to be that team.”