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Defensive change pushes UB women’s basketball team past Miami of Ohio

Joanna Smith scored 19 points and Cassie Oursler scored a season-high 16 Saturday to help the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team rout Miami of Ohio, 58-39.

Smith and Oursler combined for 16 points in the third quarter, when UB blew open the game. The Bulls outscored Miami, 23-8, in the period to erase a 20-18 halftime deficit.

Defense keyed the run. A full-court press helped UB force five turnovers and hold Miami to 2 of 10 shooting in the third quarter.

“I just thought we had to change the defense up just to get our legs moving and get us some enthusiasm,” said UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “I thought Katherine Ups really ignited the defense. She was just so locked in and focused on trying to get touches and deflections. ... We had an opportunity to score fast breaks to get the crowd involved.”

Records: UB improved to 13-12 overall and 5-9 in the Mid-American Conference. Miami lost its fifth straight to fall to 9-16 and 3-11.

What it means: UB stands tied for eighth with Bowling Green in the 12-team MAC. The eighth-place team plays at home in the first round of the MAC tournament against the ninth-place team. UB beat Bowling Green last month, and the two teams play at UB Wednesday at 7 p.m.

All-WNYer: The 6-foot-3 Oursler has made a good impact on UB since joining the team at midseason. The former Grand Island star was Buffalo News high school player of the year in 2013. She transferred after one year at Robert Morris, and she’s averaging 7.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. But after sitting out a season, she’s had trouble avoiding fouls. She has had four or five fouls in nine of 15 MAC games. Saturday she picked up just two fouls and made 7 of 11 shots.

“I just think she’s getting better,” Legette-Jack said. “She has a major presence about herself. We just have to slow her down in her head. Once she slows down in her head and reads the defense a little bit more, you’re going to see a 20-10 kid. This kid to me can be really special.”

“I was always getting a couple of over-the-back rebounding fouls,” Oursler said. “So I’ve had to just ease off a little bit of that, just be careful. I’m trying to get better at staying low and moving my feet.”

Bling award: In the UB locker room after wins, Legette-Jack awards a gaudy, light-up ring to a player. It went to sophomore point guard Stephanie Reid, who had two points, six assists and four steals.

“We have this thing called the Buffalo Bling for being the bomb, meaning the person who was the most important on the floor, and she received that,” Legette-Jack said. “If you remove her from the equation, there’s no way we’re going to have the best success. She does all the little things.”

Reid, a 5-6 Australian, didn’t join the UB team until January 2015.

“We’re giving her the keys to the Mercedes, and she’s saying, ‘Well, you know I just learned how to drive a couple weeks ago,’ ” Legette-Jack said. “We’re understanding she’s not totally prepared yet. But she’s the one you go down in the trenches with.”

Decimated: Miami lost leading scorer Baleigh Reid to a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 20. Reid was averaging 15.3 ppg. The RedHawks lost their No. 3 returning scorer, senior forward Hannah McCue, for the season due to a preseason injury.

In the house: Attendance was 1,136.