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UB women's preview: JoAnna Smith leads Bulls' repeat title hopes

Team: UB
Affiliation: Mid-American Conference
Coach: Felisha Legette-Jack (5th year)
Last Year: 20-14, 8-10

University at Buffalo guard JoAnna Smith was the most improved scorer in the nation as a junior last season.

What does she do for an encore?

More of the same, UB expects.

The defending Mid-American Conference champions have a deep roster and should have more scoring options than last year.

But Smith, UB’s 5-foot-8 shooting guard, remains Plan A on the offensive end.

“We’re going to rely on her,” said UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack. “We’re going through Jo. We’ve taught her this year to go off the bounce a little more and make some decisions off the bounce. We’re going to try to expand her game. She’s our only senior. We’re going to win or lose thorough Jo. Her shoulders are strong enough to handle that.”

Smith averaged 18.3 ppg last year, an increase of 12.8 ppg from her sophomore season. She is outstanding in the open court and a fine shooter. Her 2.9 three-pointers per game ranked third in the MAC. She also averaged 6.1 rebounds a game.

“I keep the past in the past,” Smith said. “What happened last year was last year. There’s a whole bunch of things I can get better with, and I can help my teammates to get better, which ultimately will make me better.”

Smith is a good perimeter defender but hopes to be more of a defensive stopper as a senior.

“We talked about that at the end of last season,” she said. “My defense could have been a whole lot better. That’s something I’m keying in on.”

Strengths: Both Smith and junior point guard Stephanie Reid are among the best players in the MAC. The Bulls’ defense is superb thanks to a matchup zone that harasses shooters. UB ranked third in the MAC in points allowed last year (62.2) and third in three-point percentage allowed (.301). The Bulls are strong on the boards, too, thanks in part to 6-3 center Cassie Oursler (Grand Island) and forwards Brittany Morrison (5.4) and Katherine Ups (4.7). Morrison, a 5-9 sophomore, was the catalyst to the

O'Hara graduate Summer Hemphill should help give the Bulls a boost in the backcourt. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

O'Hara graduate Summer Hemphill should help give the Bulls a boost in the backcourt. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Bulls’ run to the title last season because opponents could not box her out and she gave a challenged UB offense a ton of second chances. UB is deep. Ten players averaged at least 10 minutes a game. The Bulls expect freshmen Summer Hemphill (O’Hara) and Theresa Onwuka to contribute right away. Hemphill could be “the head of the snake,” playing the top of the UB press. Onwuka is a tight on-ball defender.

Issues: UB needs to develop more scoring options behind Smith, Reid and Oursler. Junior Mariah Suchan (3.2) could take a step forward and may start at power forward. She’s 6-1. Both Oursler and Suchan can stretch the floor. So can 6-1 junior Courtney Wilkins. Morrison is a big sparkplug off the bench and could improve on her 5.1 ppg. How much offense can Hemphill produce as a freshman? Sophomore guard Gabi Bade (3.9 ppg) has the skill to score more and will see more minutes.

Inside the numbers: Over the last 11 MAC games, UB held foes to just 53 ppg. Legette-Jack’s teams are no fun to face. The Bulls forced the third-most turnovers in the MAC (17.8) and got the third-most steals (8.9). Legette-Jack believes the deep bench helps the defense in the long run.

“It’s about the legs you save,” Legette-Jack said. “I’m hoping we can go to 12 deep and be even more special. The intensity of the defense will pick up when Tessy’s in there. She’s in your face.”

Grand Island native Cassie Oursler is part of UB's formidable inside presence. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Grand Island native Cassie Oursler is part of UB's formidable inside presence. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Schedule: The non-conference schedule is not overly arduous. At Duquesne Nov. 22 is a tough game. Barring injuries, Legette-Jack could be a hot commodity after the season. The games against Ohio (Jan. 4 at Athens, Feb. 22 at UB) will be holy wars. Ohio went 16-3 in the MAC last year, with all three losses to UB. MAC favorite Central Michigan visits Jan. 21.

Outlook: Another 20-win year is coming. Ohio was picked to win the MAC East. It will be a close fight among Central Michigan, Ohio and UB for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

The Schedule

Nov. 4 Bloomsburg, 65-45 (exh.)
Nov. 11 Massachusetts 7 p.m.
Nov. 16 Niagara 7 p.m.
Nov. 19 Manhattan 2 p.m.
Nov. 22 at Duquesne 1 p.m.
Nov. 26 Sacred Heart 2 p.m.
Dec. 1 Central Florida 7 p.m.
Dec. 4 Hofstra 12 p.m.
Dec. 8 at Canisius 7 p.m.
Dec. 21 St. Bonaventure 12 p.m.
Dec. 29 at Fordham^ 12 p.m.
Dec. 30 UNC Asheville/Harvard^ TBA
Dec. 31 Miami (Ohio)* 6 p.m.
Jan. 4 at Ohio* TBA
Jan. 7 at Central Michigan* 1 p.m.
Jan. 11 Toledo* 7 p.m.
Jan. 14 at Miami (Ohio)* 1 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Bowling Green* TBA
Jan. 21 Central Michigan* 1 p.m.
Jan. 25 Ball State* 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 at Western Michigan* TBA
Feb. 1 at Toledo* 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 Kent State* 2 p.m.
Feb. 11 Northern Illinois* 2 p.m.
Feb. 15 at Eastern Michigan* 7 p.m.
Feb. 18 Akron* 1 p.m.
Feb. 22 Ohio* 7 p.m.
Feb. 25 Bowling Green* 1 p.m.
Mar. 1 at Akron* 7 p.m.
Mar. 4 at Kent State* TBA
Mar. 6-11 MAC Tournament
* Mid-American Conference games
^ Fordham Holiday Classic

The Roster

No. Name Pos. Cl. Ht. Hometown High School
0 Summer Hemphill F Fr. 6-1 Buffalo Cardinal O’Hara
1 Stephanie Reid G Jr. 5-6 Melbourne, VIC, Australia The Peninsula School
2 Lawrencia Moten F Fr. 6-2 Bowie, Md. Bullis School
3 Liisa Ups G Jr. 5-9 Wollongong, NSW, Australia Smith’s Hill
4 JoAnna Smith G Sr. 5-8 Southaven, Miss. Southaven
5 Katherine Ups G Jr. 5-9 Wollongong, NSW, Australia Smith’s Hill
10 Gabi Bade G So. 5-8 Milpitas, Calif. Pinewood School
11 Theresa Onwuka G Fr. 5-10 Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria Lake Forest Academy
12 Courtney Wilkins F Jr. 6-1 Melbourne, VIC, Australia Haileybury College
21 Mariah Suchan F Jr. 6-1 Wichita, Kan. Maize South
22 Ayoleka Sodade G So. 5-9 Windsor, Ont. Holy Names Catholic
24 Cierra Dillard G Jr. 5-9 Rochester Gates Chili
31 Cassie Oursler C Sr. 6-3 Grand Island Grand Island
32 Brittany Morrison F So. 5-9 North Ridgeville, Ohio St. Joseph Academy

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