The waves of University at Buffalo players kept coming at St. Bonaventure in Wednesday’s women’s basketball game at Alumni Arena.
UB sends one long-armed rebounder after another off its bench. It has a legion of perimeter defenders. Sooner or later, the Bonnies were bound to wear down.
UB stretched a nine-point halftime lead to 24 by the end of the third quarter. The Bulls coasted to a 68-47 victory to improve to 9-0, the best start in program history.
“It’s the deepest team and the best team; this is the best team I’ve ever coached,” said UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack.
The first eight weeks of the season have proved this: UB is better than it was last year, when it won the Mid-American Conference title.
That doesn’t mean they’re a lock for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. UB’s two big MAC rivals, Ohio and Central Michigan, also are loaded and off to good starts. But the UB women are the most powerful team in the Big 4 in their respective conference, men or women.
“They’re playing really, really hard,” said Bona coach Jesse Fleming. “They’re going to be a tough out in the MAC, that’s for sure.”
Depth is a big reason. UB’s bench is averaging 28 points a game. The Bulls have 12 players averaging nine minutes a game or more. They are outrebounding opponents by 13.2 points a game. They’re outscoring opponents on the fast break, 82-18.
Against Bona (5-7), UB held advantages of 31-9 in bench scoring, 43-22 in points in the paint, 19-0 in second-chance points and 45-33 in rebounding.
“We’re so deep that everyone can be a threat,” said UB point guard Stephanie Reid. “We started the first possession of the game with two offensive boards. We’re starting strong and finishing strong, whether it’s the bench or the starters. It’s those second-chance opportunities we’re getting through hard work and effort that are providing us with scoring opportunities.”
Freshman forward Summer Hemphill is averaging 7.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 18 minutes a game off the bench. Sophomore Brittany Morrison, an undersized power forward at 5-foot-9, showed her value again against Bona by scoring nine points (all in the paint) and grabbing four rebounds. Reserve sophomore guard Gabi Bade is an offensive spark, averaging 6.4 ppg.
Legette-Jack showed confidence in her defensive reserves in the way she played Bona star Mariah Ruff. First star guard JoAnna Smith defended Ruff. Then it was starting wing Katherine Ups, followed by freshman Theresa Onwuka and sophomore Ayoleka Sodade.
“We’re a lot better defensively this year, laterally quick, athletically strong,” Legette-Jack said. “Katherine did the best job on her. You have to respect players like Mariah enough to say we’re going to throw the kitchen sink at you. You have to adjust to Jo, then we’ll throw Katherine at you, then Tesse then Lekka. We don’t want you to be comfortable.”
Morrison remains a catalyst among the reserves, even though she’s only averaging 12 minutes and 3.5 rebounds. If you prorated her rebound rate over 40 minutes, she’d be averaging 11.5 boards a game.
“I would say I’m the strongman,” Morrison said of her role. “I try to just get every board that I can. Along with the other posts, our job is just to give the guards confidence to shoot the ball, and we’ll get the rebound.”
Depth should help UB’s defense in conference play. The Bulls ranked third in the MAC in scoring defense last year.
A trademark of Legette-Jack’s teams the past five years has been a matchup zone defense that frustrates the opposition. But UB has played mostly man-to-man defense throughout the non-conference season. (Legette-Jack played mostly man last year, too, before MAC play started.)
Does her deep bench have her thinking of diverting from the zone and playing more man this year? Legette-Jack was evasive.
“We want to play 94 feet more than we did last year,” she said, referring to her full-court press.
Reid, the 5-6 junior point guard from Australia, was the best player on the court Wednesday. She had 10 points, eight assists, three steals and one turnover. UB got 12 points from junior center Cassie Oursler and 11 from Smith. Hemphill had eight points and six rebounds.
Bona got 12 points apiece from Ruff and center Gabby Richmond.