ALBANY – Summer Hemphill was aggressive. With the University at Buffalo trailing by five points early in the fourth quarter, her defense forced two turnovers in a row that she collected for steals and fast-break opportunities.
But Stephanie Reid missed a layup and then Hemphill went in on her own, only to have her shot blocked Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. She picked up her fourth foul fighting for that rebound, then picked up her fifth one on the defensive end.
There was still 7:27 left in the game, and with Hemphill on the bench, Buffalo's defensive momentum cooled. South Carolina was able to hold off the Bulls for the 79-63 win in the NCAA Sweet 16 in Times Union Center Saturday afternoon.
The sophomore who played at Cardinal O'Hara finished with six points and three rebounds with five assists in 23 minutes while drawing the assignment, along with fellow Western New Yorker Cassie Oursler (Grand Island), to defend South Carolina's low-post attack.
That was a tall order.
Hemphill and the 6-foot-3 Oursler tried to counter the attack of 6-5 forward A'ja Wilson, a lock for national player of the year. Wilson finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds while forward Alexis Jennings, who comes in at 6-foot-2, had 20 points.
"I mean usually when we're playing against a strong post team, we just try to get them in a one-on-one situation and let them not be able to feel us really," the 6-foot-1 Hemphill said. "That's what posts do, they live off feeling you. Me and Cassie tried to work hard, but they were able to get us a lot on a high-low and catch us slacking a little."
Hemphill didn't feel it was the best game for Buffalo.
But her teammate, junior guard Cierra Dillard, had tons of praise for the Buffalo native.
"We knew it was going to go inside. We knew A'ja Wilson was going to get her points," Dillard said. "I think the foul trouble is what got us. Summer Hemphill did an unbelievable job. To be only a sophomore on this NCAA stage is saying something. She is something to look out for. She's an amazing player and an amazing post and she's going to keep getting better. With every game she works on her craft. This is a learning tool for her which is going to make her an unbelievable player in the future."
About those fouls. Coach Felisha Legette-Jack will have to watch the film to check out some of those calls.
"That's the most frustrating thing for me, to see the fouls she received," Legette-Jack said. "Had she been on that court, she made a difference. She absolutely made a difference. And I just don't know. I need to watch the film because I've been wrong before, but a couple of those fouls just changed the trajectory of what we were doing. … But she was the one getting the touches and tips and keeping the ball alive for us.
"I just felt, you know, you almost feel like your player was being picked on a little bit. She was so frustrated. She was so hurt … but I thought Summer was great. She's only a sophomore, guys. She's going to be a fantastic local player from Buffalo and I'm so, so proud of her."
Legette-Jack was one of 10 black women coaches to lead her team into the field of 64 in this year's NCAA Tournament.
Which brings us to a significant stat.
The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports reported that last season in Division I women's basketball, African-American women head coaches held 11.4 percent of the positions while 43.4 percent of players are black.
"I'm saddened by it," Legette-Jack said when asked Saturday about getting more women of color in leadership positions in college basketball. "I know that the majority of women basketball players look like me. I think that these young women, if we really care about them as people, they will have role models that look like them."
Legette-Jack has always credited Anucha Brown, the former senior associate athletic director at UB, for encouraging her to apply for Buffalo's head coaching job after Legette-Jack was fired from Indiana. Her personal story of resurrection from a failed tenure with the Hoosiers to building a program at Buffalo is something she hopes inspires other coaches.
"I hope they get encouraged and understand: The fight is not going to be easy. It's necessary," Legette-Jack said. "It's necessary not just for you and your sadness, and you and your fire, and you and your woes. The fight is for the next young lady that needs a person who looks like her to rise above and be coached up and create a foundation so she can become the COO, the CFO of something very big. It's important that they stay in the race and keep fighting. We see them. You're out there. Keep fighting. Go forward."
Stephanie Reid finished her career with 679 assists, ranking seventh all-time in the Mid-American Conference. … A'ja Wilson broke her own single-season block record at South Carolina. Her three blocks against Buffalo give her 105 for the season. … South Carolina will face Connecticut in the Albany Regional Final at 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN. The Gamecocks have played in two of the last three Final Fours. … UConn advanced with a 72-59 win over Duke as the Huskies improved to 35-0.