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Defensive feeding frenzy sends UB women to MAC title game

CLEVELAND – If the hair on the back of your neck is not standing up after talking to Felisha Legette-Jack for five minutes, you have a serious problem with low blood pressure.

The University at Buffalo women's basketball coach is in motivation mode from opening tip to final buzzer, from sunup to sundown.

After UB destroyed Western Michigan in the Mid-American Conference semifinals Friday, guard Cierra Dillard was asked why the Bulls are such a great defensive team.

Quick Hits: UB women rout WMU, advance to MAC final

"Honestly, when you look at Coach Jack on the sideline, how do you not have energy? That's how she is twenteeee-four-sevvven," Dillard said, with emphasis. "Any energy we don't feel we have, when we look at her and she's bouncing as high as the players on the court, the energy just flows."

UB put Western Michigan in a straight-jacket, 85-53, to advance to the MAC championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday against Central Michigan.

The win virtually assured UB of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. The Bulls (27-4) have won 11 straight and are No. 19 in the nation in the Ratings Percentage Index, one of the key at-large selection metrics. Central Michigan (27-4), No. 24 in the RPI, is virtually assured of an at-large berth, too.

The semifinal blowout was a prototypical FLJ-team performance.

UB forced 23 turnovers, made 16 steals and held a 26-8 edge in points off turnovers.

What else is new? The Bulls rank 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency, No. 8 in steals and No. 17 in forcing turnovers. UB has been in the top third of the MAC in steals and field-goal percentage defense all six years of Legette-Jack's tenure.

"They went out there and did what we usually do, played great defense," Legette-Jack said.

"I think it has to do with Coach Jack," Dillard said. "She's the most defensive-minded coach I've ever played for, the way she inspires us to play defense and the way she has confidence in us to do our thing. Everybody is good individually on defense."

UB is the deepest team in the MAC, with 12 players averaging seven minutes or more. The Bulls tend to wear down the opposition.

The Bulls also have superb defensive leaders. Relentless senior point guard Stephanie Reid is 38th in the nation in steals, at 2.62 a game. Dillard, a quick-handed junior guard, is 21st at 2.83. And 6-foot-1 sophomore Summer Hemphill is the "Elasti-Girl" defensive X-factor, because her long arms block passing lanes and she has the quickness to guard all five positions.

"When I play with Autumn Jones and Stephanie Reid, they put the pressure on," Dillard said. "It's easy for me to get steals when you have a guard who's panicking with the pressure they put on."

The addition of Hemphill and Jones, a quick junior college transfer, has allowed Legette-Jack to play a lot more man-to-man defense, as opposed to the swarming zone that was her trademark her first four years.

But Legette-Jack has a great feel for when to mix it up. The Bulls played mostly zone vs. Western Michigan. And three times coming out of time outs in the third quarter, UB put on a full-court press. All three times they forced a turnover.

"I knew they only had one ball-handler, and I thought their No. 4 was a very dominant right-handed player," Legette-Jack said, referring to WMU's Deja Wimby. "So every time she got the ball we were going to run at her right hand, and it seemed like that worked."

Dillard led the Bulls with 17 points. Reid had 12 and Jones 11.

Does Legette-Jack think the Bulls are in the NCAAs no matter what?

"What we're trying to do is keep our destiny in our own hands," she said.

ESPN consistently has had both UB and Central Michigan in the 64-team field the past month.

"If they're not, there should be an investigation," said Western coach Shane Clipfell. "History says they don't leave teams out with those kind of RPIs. I don't know. The experts are saying that they're both in. We've been seeing that for a little while. And the fact that they both got to the championship game I think seals that fate for them, or it should."

UB and Central Michigan split during the regular season. The Bulls' 85-82 home win over the Chippewas on Feb. 14 might have been the best game of the year in the MAC – men or women.

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