The University at Buffalo women’s basketball team unfurled its 2017-18 Sweet 16 banner before a crowd of 1,636 Wednesday night at Alumni Arena before taking on Niagara.
It took the Bulls (2-0) a while to get back to a semblance of the form they showed in the last NCAA tournament, but when they did they easily handled the winless Purple Eagles, 88-61, behind a 25-point performance by senior star Cierra Dillard.
Thanks to its outside shooting -- the Purple Eagles made three 3-pointers in a row to close the period -- Niagara led 20-18 after the first quarter. UB began to take charge in the second quarter and went into the halftime break with a 37-31 lead, closing the half on a three by senior guard Autumn Jones.
Then Dillard took over the game. She hit a three to start a 10-point run by the Bulls, which she finished off with another three.
She ended up with 17 points in the third period alone as the Bulls built a 68-46 lead heading into the final period.
All 25 of Dillard’s points came in the first three quarters. She played only 32 minutes or else she might have threatened her UB career high of 36 against South Florida in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Dillard made 9 of 13 shots, 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 4 for 4 free throws. She also had six rebounds and four assists.
Senior Courtney Wilkins had 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds. Junior Theresa Onwuka had 10 points on 5 for 6 shooting.
Jai Moore led Niagara with 13 points, Junior Maggie McIntyre had 12 including 3 for 5 on 3-pointers and senior Kharysma Bryant had 10 points with a couple of 3-pointers made in three attempts.
The Purple Eagles had three leads in the first quarter, but not by more than two points. With Dillard scoreless in the fourth, UB went 4:14 with out a point early in the period. Dillard went to the bench for good with 4:40 left and UB safely in front by 18.
UB now heads to the West Coast to face Oregon in Eugene, Ore. on Sunday afternoon. Niagara, which has lost by 28, 60 and 27 so far gets no break. The Purple Eagles will play at Saint Joseph’s next Tuesday.