CLEVELAND – Hanna Hall knew she had a role to fill for the University at Buffalo women’s basketball team: Be the third option.
She definitely isn’t a tertiary option for the Bulls. Instead, Hall emerged as another exhibit of UB’s depth, particularly at a valuable point in the season.
Hall, a sophomore guard, scored 16 points and was one of four players to score in double figures for the Bulls in an 85-52 win against Kent State in a quarterfinal of the MAC Tournament on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena.
“I knew this was the stage that I had to come through, especially with teams playing the way they're playing against Cierra (Dillard) and Summer (Hemphill) and our main players right now, it's important for me to be able to be that third option.
“To have that third option, it makes teams really tough to guard us, so I was just locked in and ready for when the ball came.”
UB (21-9), the fourth seed in the MAC Tournament, will face top-seeded Central Michigan, an 88-80 overtime winner over Eastern Michigan, in a MAC semifinal at 11 a.m. Friday. The winner of the MAC tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, which begins March 22.
UB also helped its resume for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s latest women’s tournament projections, posted Wednesday, have the Bulls as an 11 seed. UB is No. 37 in the RPI, or the ratings projection index.
“What we're trying to do is say we were good at a lot of things but let's make it even better,” Bulls coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “So we're looking at this as a three-game situation. We just got through with game one. If we won by 1, 30, it doesn't matter. And now we're going to game two and now we have to continue to go forward.”
Dillard led the Bulls with 22 points and Hemphill and Brittany Morrison each scored 13, but Hall’s 16 points were a breakthrough for the guard from Hamilton, Ont.
After starting the first 22 games for the Bulls, Hall came off the bench in their last seven regular-season games, and averaged only 2.1 points per game in that span.
“It wasn't working for her, so we had to change her on the lineup and try to bring her off the bench,” Legette-Jack said. “It just was a tough February for her, and to see her go out there and let her have her light shine before everyone, to glorify something she believes in is her.
“It's not about the wins or the losses, it's about the fight. And she has such a fight in her and she makes everybody else responsible for the fight, so to see her do her thing is pure joy.”
Four days after the Golden Flashes (19-12) ended the regular season with a 62-53 win against the Bulls in northeast Ohio, the Bulls eliminated Kent State from the MAC Tournament. Megan Carter led the Golden Flashes with 19 points and seven rebounds, and Lindsey Thall added 12 points.
The Bulls took an 11-0 lead less than three minutes in, and while Kent State didn’t make its first field goal until nearly 3 1/2 minutes into the game, the Golden Flashes quickly cut UB’s lead to 11-7. However, Carter and Asiah Dingle missed layups inside the 5-minute mark, which could have trimmed UB's lead, and Kent State went without a successful shot from the floor for nearly five minutes of the first 10. Kent State trailed 20-9 after the first, then by 20 points (41-21) at halftime.
The Golden Flashes finished 18-for-60 shooting, and UB grabbed 34 defensive rebounds.
“They have the ability to be versatile,” Kent State coach Todd Starkey said. “They played us a lot more zone (four) days ago. We had the ability to really pass the ball and get good ball movement and get good looks. Some of it was a matter of us just knocking down good shots that we had and we didn't. We didn't finish at the basket like we have been doing lately, and we didn't knock down open 3s like we have been lately.
“Some of it just had to do with their active hands. They obviously, they kind of flipped a switch. They have the ability to do that as a team. They kind of flip the switch and take things to a different level defensively, and they got their hands on a lot more balls than they did the other day and really converted at the basket.”