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Shut off inside, UB eliminated

CLEVELAND – Mackenzie Loesing’s heroic effort on a hobbled ankle couldn’t keep the University at Buffalo from losing to the best defensive team in the Mid-American Conference Friday.

Top-seeded Ohio limited UB’s dominant inside game in handing the Bulls a 63-55 defeat in a MAC women’s basketball semifinal game at Quicken Loans Arena.

Ohio packed in its zone defense and limited UB to a season-low 12 points in the paint. UB averaged 28 points in the paint a game during the MAC season.

It wasn’t a complete surprise. Ohio (26-4) had overplayed the low post in beating UB twice during the regular season.

The Bulls (19-12) almost got the other offensive answers it needed. Loesing, a junior guard, scored 14 points. Sophomore guard Joanna Smith and senior forward Kristen Sharkey each had 12.

UB had the ball and a chance to tie or take the lead nine times in the second half but never could get a go-ahead score.

“This is a special group here,” said coach Felisha Legette-Jack, who led UB to the semifinals for only the second time in its 17-year MAC history. “I’m so honored to be their coach.”

Loesing showed uncommon toughness in playing hurt all season. She had reconstructive surgery on her ankle last April. She tore ligaments in the same ankle early this season and barely practiced all season.

Nevertheless, the 5-foot-11 Cincinnati native earned the MAC’s Sixth Player of the Year award, averaging 26 minutes and 13.7 points a game.

Against Ohio, UB was staggering, down seven midway through the second half. Loesing scored 11 points and assisted on another basket over the next six minutes as UB pulled within 52-51 with 3:03 to go. That was as close as UB would get.

Loesing could not hold back tears in reflecting on what a physical struggle the season was for her.

“We all face our own adversities, obviously,” she said. “So it’s been hard, but there’s nothing I want to do more than fight for this team and with this team. We all fight our own battles, and I’m not the only one who’s been dealing with stuff this season. … I’m no stranger to pain.”

“She wants to play so much,” said Legette-Jack. “Here’s a young lady that cannot practice. She’s playing with torn ligaments in her ankle. But she would rather not breathe than not play. She gave it her best.”

“She’s the toughest person I’ve ever met,” said Sharkey.

UB lost the turnover battle, 20-14. A bunch of the giveaways were on passes directed into a clogged low post.

“I think we packed it in,” said Ohio coach Bob Boldon. “We knew we had to win the points in the paint battle. We knew they were going to try to throw it inside and use their size. They’ve got size on top of size.”

Legette-Jack said she was determined to exploit her team’s size edge, which allowed the Bulls to lead the MAC in both offensive rebounds (16.2) and free-throw attempts per game (20.7).

But without enough chances inside, UB managed only 11 offensive boards. And the officials let both teams play. UB didn’t not shoot a free throw the first 33:06 of the game, and finished with only seven free-throw attempts. Ohio got only 10 free-throw attempts.

“We don’t change our game plan,” Legette-Jack said. “I thought we still got the ball on the block, and we got some opportunities that didn’t work out for us. … The post play was a real interesting situation that I’d rather not talk about.”

UB did a lot of other things right. Its defense held all-MAC guard Kiyanna Black to 13 points on 6 of 16 shooting. UB held Ohio under its season averages for scoring and shooting.

UB also hit nine three-point shots, five more than its season average.

The Bulls simply needed a little more offense against the top team in the conference.

Ohio advanced to Saturday’s title game against Eastern Michigan. UB hopes to get a bid to the 64-team Women’s NIT. Three MAC teams received bids last year.