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WOMEN'S HOOP TEAMS SHOW PLENTY OF PROMISE

So much for preseason prognostications in women's basketball.

Niagara was picked to finish sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. All the Purple Eagles have done is make a serious run at their first conference title.

The University at Buffalo was expected to be one of the bottom feeders in the Mid-American Conference. But the Bulls have been one of the league's best teams from the start of the season.

Canisius was actually picked to finish ahead of Niagara in the MAAC, but has struggled and is in last place. Not much was expected from St. Bonaventure, which lost all-time great Hilary Waltman. But the Bonnies are holding their own in the Atlantic-10..

There are a lot of games left to be played, so any talk of postseason success would be premature. None of the teams has a good track record in conference tournaments. But the way the local teams are playing, especially Niagara and UB, who's to say how far they can go.

Here's a closer look at what has transpired in the Big 4 so far:

Niagara (9-8, 6-2 MAAC): Thanks to their best start in the conference in six seasons, the Purple Eagles are tied for second place with defending tournament champion St. Peter's. Niagara routed St. Peter's, 85-67, last Sunday.

Coach Bill Argonin has a solid trio in seniors Amy Getman, Sheryl Klick and Meaghan Coleman. Getman, the preseason MAAC player of the year, is averaging a league-leading 19 points per game and is eighth in rebounding at 7.1. Klick, the reigning MAAC player of the week, is 10th in the MAAC in scoring (13.65), first in steals (2.82) and tied with teammate Douglasse Sieber for fourth in assists (4.94). Klick has been on a tear over the last six games, averaging 17.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.7 steals, while shooting 52.1 percent from three-point range. Center Meaghan Coleman gives the team a reliable inside threat.

As a team, Niagara is shooting the ball well (49.6 percent in last four games) and its defense has been more than adequate. Still, it has to prove it can win away from the Gallagher Center. After tonight's home game against Manhattan, the Purple Eagles have five of the next seven on the road. They are 2-6 in road games this season.

UB (15-4, 5-3): What a job second-year coach Cheryl Dozier has done with this team. The Bulls are down to seven scholarship players and three walk-ons due to recent player departures. But they moved into second place, a half-game ahead of Miami in the MAC's East Division after Thursday night's 54-49 win over Marshall. UB is surviving with grit and the MAC's best defense.

The key to UB's success is the health of junior center Tiffany Bell, second in the MAC in scoring (19.5) and ninth in rebounding (7.9). She is still hobbled by a sprained ankle that forced her to miss three games. The Bulls lost all three on the heels of a school-record 12-game winning streak. They are 3-0 since Bell's return. Senior guard Sonia Ortega 9.5 points per game) is a high-energy player who is second in the MAC in assists (6.6) and third in steals (3.4). Junior guard Mari McClure is a medical marvel. Playing on two chronically bad knees and a gimpy ankle, she is among team's leaders in scoring and minutes played. Several freshmen are making an impact. Kim Kilpela, a 6-3 center, and guard Katie Blazewski could be a future All-MAC players. Every game is critical for the Bulls, who have a chance to host a first-round tournament game if they finish in the top eight in the standings. The final eight teams following the first round move on to the MAC quarterfinals at Public Hall in Cleveland on March 2.

Canisius (5-13, 2-7 MAAC): The Griffs are in last place in the MAAC because of a 10-game losing streak that was snapped last Sunday with an 82-45 win at Marist. But coach Mike Decillis has enough talent to be a factor in the tournament. Sophomore forward Shauna Geronzin picked up where she left off as a freshman, ranking third in the MAAC in scoring (17.6 points) and rebounding (9.8). Sophomore guard Tricia Breznitsky is rounding into a solid player. In the Marist win, she had the first triple double (10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) in school history -- men or women. She is averaging 8.7 points, 6.6 assists and 2.6 steals for the season. Besides Geronzin, Maggie Guidry is the Griffs' most reliable post player. If it doesn't happen for Canisius this season, look out for this team in the future. The Griffs aren't that far away talent-wise from being a top MAAC team.

St. Bonaventure (8-9, 4-3 A-10): Marti Whitmore's Bonnies were supposed to have a strong team last year, but most of the key pieces surrounding Waltman went down with injuries. Now healthy, Bona is among the best teams in the A-10, holding third place in the East Division. Junior forward Melissa Fazio was having a career year when she suffered a broken ankle last season. But she's back with a vengeance, averaging a team-high 16.6 points and 3.1 assists per game while grabbing 4.9 rebounds. Sophomore center Angela Scott, who missed 22 games with a stress fracture in her left leg, averages 9.4 points and five rebounder per contest. She is coming off a career-high 25 points in a 76-72 overtime win over second-place Massachusetts last Sunday. Freshman guard Trisha Raniewicz has been as good as advertised, averaging 10.6 points and two assists per game.

Homecoming for Buscaglia

Niagara's women's basketball game against Manhattan tonight at the Gallagher Center will mark the return of Sal Buscaglia. The former UB coach has the Lady Jaspers (11-5, 4-4) in fifth in the MAAC.

The Purple Eagles will be looking for some pay back in this one. Manhattan handed NU its worse loss of the season, 71-50, on Dec. 5.

UB wrestler States case

UB junior Josh States has been named the MAC wrestler of the week for his performance at the New York Intercollegiate tournament last weekend.

The Lockport native went 5-0 in the two-day meet, including a victory over the No. 1 seed in the 184-pound final. States' record this season is 18-8.

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