TALLAHASSEE – They call themselves "the sisterhood" and a big part of that is celebrating each other's accomplishments.
Monday night, University at Buffalo senior point guard Stephanie Reid heaped praise on her backcourt mate Cierra Dillard.
And Dillard got a little choked up.
See, Dillard had just dropped a career-high 36 points against South Florida in Saturday's first-round win in the NCAA Tournament including hitting seven 3-pointers.
But Dillard missed her first two shots in Monday's second-round game against Florida State and went 1 for 4 from 3-point range in the first quarter. The junior started finding her open teammates, particularly Cassie Oursler who had an early hot-hand. Dillard didn't need to connect to make a difference. But a shooter's going to keep shooting. And Dillard eventually found her groove, taking the ball to the basket and leading the Bulls with 22 points.
What did Reid see from Dillard as she had a rough patch to the start the game?
"I don't know if you had a rough patch. I thought you were doing pretty well," Reid said turning to Dillard at Monday night's press conference after the Bulls had upset Florida State, 86-65, to advance to the Sweet 16.
"Cierra's always going to do what's needed of her," Reid said. "When that's going for 36, she'll go for 36. When she takes shots and misses them, her energy is never going to change. That's something we love that about her. We thrive on Cierra's energy. She creates such a good vibe for us on the court whether she's making or missing – you don't even notice. That's something I give a lot of credit to her for because honestly I didn't think she had a bad half at all. And she stepped up when she needed to. That's the energy we need from her at all times and she did a great job today."
As Reid concluded her answer, a shy smile spread across Dillard's face. "Aw," she said loudly looking over to Reid as the two broke out into laughter.
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Laughter is a big part of this Buffalo team and the chuckles continued when head coach Felisha Legette-Jack was asked about the Bulls' prowess at the free throw line.
First, she noted that the team focuses on three areas – winning the jump ball, out-of-bounds plays and free throws.
"We always said championships are won with the jump ball, which we haven't gotten in a while," Legette-Jack said, nudging sophomore center Summer Hemphill who takes the opening tip each game. "That's because you're not jumping as high as you can," the coach said.
Hemphill joked that the refs "are throwing it to the other team."
But back to those free throws. Buffalo has an ability to get to the line and hit from the line. The Bulls went a combined 49 for 54 in their first and second round games.
"We work on free throws every single day," Legette-Jack said before promptly digressing to another story.
"I'm 51 years old and I feel younger than I did 10 years ago because these young ladies, they're invigorating," Legette-Jack said. "They're so enthusiastic. I'm so grateful that we have another week together. We're goofy a little bit, too, but it's because we're sincere."
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Praise for the Bulls was abundant on social media and through traditional media relations channels on Monday and into Tuesday.
There were congratulations from former UB greats, including Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack who tweeted "On the plane and got the news!!! Congrats @UBwomenshoops @CoachJack!!! #winitall"
Buffalo was also acknowledged by the political set, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, and Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown.
Meanwhile, University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi released a statement after the Bulls win Monday night:
"Congratulations to the UB women’s basketball team and Coach Jack on your win over Florida State and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16! What an incredible run from an amazing team. We will see you in Albany! All of UB is proud of you."
— Kathy Hochul (@LtGovHochulNY) March 20, 2018
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) March 20, 2018
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The team will have a send off at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday in the main lobby of Alumni Arena. The Bulls are leaving for Albany at 12:30. They face defending national champion South Carolina at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Times Union Center.