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UB Notebook: ESPN analyst Kara Lawson has strong Buffalo ties

ALBANY – Her loganberry is the on the way.

On Thursday, ESPN reporter Kara Lawson tweeted to the University at Buffalo women's basketball team asking if they could bring her some Aunt Rosie's Loganberry. The team had already arrived in Albany, but students coming to Saturday's Sweet 16 game pitting the Bulls against South Carolina will hook her up with the iconic Western New York beverage.

Lawson has family roots in Buffalo. Both her parents are from the city and her father, William, went to Buffalo State. There's even a Big 4 connection as her grandfather, John Thomas Burke, was a point guard for Canisius College, graduating back in 1940.

The point guard gene was strong in Lawson, who starred at Tennessee where she led the Lady Vols to three Final Four appearances in 2000, 2002 and 2003. She then went on to play seven seasons in the WNBA with the Sacramento Monarchs from 2003-09, leading the team to the 2005 title.

She began working at ESPN in 2004 as a women's college basketball analyst and in 15 years of covering the NCAA Tournament, she's excited by new stories that come from programs like Buffalo.

"Doing this as long as I have, you know it is nice to see over the years different stories that emerge every year," Lawson said in Times Union Center Friday before watching Buffalo's practice. "People will say it's Cinderella or whatever its. I don't think it's Cinderella. I just think it's a team that gets hot at the right time or a team that’s been building and ascending and they get to showcase it on the big stage.

Buffalo "is a great story. A team that didn't know on selection night if they'd be in the tournament to now being in the Sweet 16 and in Albany, too. Just with all of that you look at Buffalo as one of the more unique stories."

Unique, yes. But Lawson had an opportunity to watch Buffalo in preparation to call Saturday's game. And the Bulls getting to this stage is no fluke.

"The first thing that stands out is defensively, they get you to play the way they want you to play," Lawson said. "They have a great deal of influence and they kind of dictate what you do offensively and that's a credit to their staff and to their players because it's hard to do that game in and game out. That's really impressive.

"They play a zone and they're connected. That's why it's so good. … Just having a zone is not what does it. It's how you play it, how your players buy into it, how they know the scout and execute it. These players execute at a very high level."

The execution of the system is impressive, but it's also that Buffalo has talent that Lawson called "Power 5 conference talent" including junior guard Cierra Dillard and senior point guard Stephanie Reid.

"Offensively, obviously Dillard's made a huge difference," Lawson said. "She's a pure scorer, someone that can put up really big numbers. Reid just understands the game, is competitive and is kind of like the perfect point guard for this team.

"You go down their team and they don't look like a typical team out of the MAC. They've got Power 5 Conference size in the post. Power 5 athleticism. They're talented, too. It's not just this nice story, 'Oh these nice girls are playing good and playing above their heads.' They're legit players. That's what has been impressive getting into the tape on them this week, how talented they are."

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Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack loves to say how the NCAA Tournament stage is an opportunity for the Bulls to keep telling their story.

When asked at the press conference Friday in Albany how to sum up their story, she said "You know, fight."

And then Legette-Jack proceeded to share some of her story.

"I come from a mother a who raised five children, retired making $36,000," said Legette-Jack, a native of Syracuse. "She shared with us that we have no choice but to be significant in this world.

"She did everything with a smile. She tithes every single week, and for some reason she found money to tithe and always have enough money for our family. So if she can do it and become, we have no choice. … Nothing is too great for us because we saw a lady become and she raised five great children.

"So as big as the mountain may seem, all we do is ask God for the strength to continue to take the step. We've got the strength to take the step. We can keep climbing. So that's what we do. We do it every day."

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Buffalo and South Carolina have met once before, back on Nov. 17, 2007, in Columbia. The Gamecocks earned a 66-54 win.

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Of their 29 wins the season, the Bulls have posted 21 double-digit victories including a 21-point win over Florida State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Each of the last nine Buffalo wins have been by double figures. Overall, they are outscoring their opponents by an average of 13.8 points.

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While the Bulls have been winning big, and scoring often, they take pride in their defense, particularly in their ability to force teams to turn the ball over. The Bulls force an average of 20.5 turnovers a game – that ranks 19th in the nation.  Buffalo has been turning those into points as well, averaging 21.3 points off turnovers a game.

Through two NCAA Tournament games, Buffalo is forcing an average of 16.5 turnovers.

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