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NCAA bid in sight as UB women enter MAC tourney

The University at Buffalo women's basketball team found out last year what it feels like to be snubbed for postseason consideration.

The Bulls went 22-10 but were left out of the Women's National Invitation Tournament, even though they beat seven teams that went to the NIT.

"We say that we're not going to leave it in anybody's hands anymore and have them hope we get in," said UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack.

UB (25-4) enters the Mid-American Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday in strong position to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, even if the Bulls don't get the automatic bid that comes with winning the event.

UB, which went 16-2 in the MAC, is the No. 2 seed. It split with No. 1 seed Central Michigan (17-1) during the regular season. UB has won nine straight games, tops in the MAC.

The Bulls stand No. 19 in the nation in the Ratings Percentage Index, a key metric the NCAA uses to pick at-large teams. Central Michigan is No. 20, and the No. 3 MAC seed, Ball State, is No. 34.

ESPN projects UB as a No. 9-seeded at-large team, while Central Michigan rates an 8 seed. UB is not even one of the last four in the 64-team field by ESPN's projections. RealtimeRPI.com projects all three top MAC teams, including Ball State, making the field.

"We're a healthy conference that has done the work," Legette-Jack said. "Now is our turn to have more than one team in the tournament."

If UB gets to the MAC final and loses, it surely is in the NCAA field. If the Bulls lose to Ball State in the semifinals, they have a strong argument to make it, given their RPI ranking and their 10-2 record against teams in the top 100. But Ball State (24-5) would have an argument, too. UB beat Ball State, 84-80, in their lone regular-season meeting. Would the NCAA pick three MAC teams?

UB can eliminate uncertainty by winning at least two games. Three is the goal, which UB achieved two years ago when it beat Central Michigan for the MAC title as the No. 8 seed.

The road begins with the quarterfinal against No. 10 seed Kent State (13-18) at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena.

"Our goal now is to reclaim and advance," said Legette-Jack, referring to a motto on the team practice shirts. "We don’t see ourselves as better than or worse than. We see ourselves as competitive. If you put the ball out there, we're going to show up. We're going to compete for 40 whole minutes."

UB stands third in the MAC and 30th in the nation in scoring at 77 points a game.

But the MAC is strong in women's basketball, the eighth-best conference by RPI rating. Central Michigan is No. 5 in the nation in scoring at 83.3 and Ball State is No. 12 (82.0).

Where UB arguably has a slim edge is on defense. The Bulls are No. 2 in the MAC in points allowed and No. 1 (along with No. 31 in the nation) in field-goal percentage defense, holding foes to 36.6 percent. UB is No. 4 in the nation in three-point percentage allowed.

The Bulls also have great depth, which usually is a factor when teams play three games in three days.

"We can't worry about what people think about us," Legette-Jack said. "We have to control what we can control."

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