The University at Buffalo women's basketball team beat Rutgers, 82-71, Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Here is what coach Felisha Legette-Jack and players Cierra Dillard and Summer Hemphill told the media.
Head Coach Felisha Legette-Jack
Opening Statement – “So funny, as we’re coming up the stairs, the gentleman at the bottom of the stairs said, “You have a bunch of fighters don’t you?” And I said, “Yeah, I do.” I’m so fortunate to have a bunch of fighters who understand what they’re fighting for. We just beat somebody today. I have such respect for Rutgers and their program and their history and their conference and all the things that they stand for. But today, they ran into somebody, a team, that are fighters. Fighters for their stories, fighters for their sisters, fighters for something bigger than basketball. And I am so grateful I’m in the locker room with a bunch of fighters that truly understand what this game is all about.”
On withstanding runs by Rutgers – “We talked about that. We knew there was going to be runs. Runs are going to happen. You can’t hold a team like Rutgers down. They’re coming from the Big 10, that’s a huge conference, and they face this on a daily basis. But what we do is face it too, with the Central Michigans of the world, and the Kent States, Toledos. What people don’t know is that our conference prepared us for that situation. We were up by 15 against Ohio in the championship game and they cut it to 9 and we had to figure out how to get to the next wave. They’ve been through it already. Summer and Sierra, just think about how special those two ladies are. Just how humble those two women are, and they are on the floor representing not just me and the team and Buffalo, they represent something bigger than themselves. So a 9-point lead? That’s all you got on us? You better hold on, because these two don’t know how to quit, because their stories were more important than the game.”
On keys to tonight’s win – “Well we knew that defensively, we were going to turn the ball over. I said, “Alright, you’re going to turn the ball over about 18 times, but we’re going to have to continue to weather the storm.” We felt like we’re better conditioned, honestly. We said, when you break the press just run. I don’t care if it’s an airball, just run. By the fourth quarter, they are better at fourth quarter, so if we run them in the first three quarters, by the fourth quarter they may not have legs. I think it held true. We can shoot the ball. Courtney Wilkins is one of the best shooters on the team in practice. She hasn’t been shooting the ball well, but she laughed at herself when she missed a shot today, and that’s a good sign. Hanna Hall, she’s got the keys. And I think that she loves moments like this. The interesting thing is, Autumn Jones, the one thing that helped our team today was her 12 points. But the first three that she took, it was like 9 seconds on the shot clock, and they [the Rutgers fans] started counting down “4, 3” and she just, from the ground up, and she chucked it, and it goes in. All the Rutgers fans did was help this kid become special. Because if she sees that ball go in the hole, she’s going to continue to go strong and score, and I thought her 12 points was the major point of our success today.”
On Cierra Dillard – “One thing about this pro on my team, she knows when to take possessions off. Well, she couldn’t take any possessions off in the first three quarters because everything was so crazy, we were in foul trouble big time, we had three players with three fouls. She was the only one who could really go out and defend hard and take chances because she only had one foul. She was the only one who could attack the gaps because that’s her strength, and she really didn’t have enough left, and she counted on her teammates to come through, and they certainly did. So she’s a smart kid, I tell you she’s one of the smartest kids I’ve ever coached, and arguably in the country. I love being in the gym, on the same floor with the kid, knowing that she’s on my team. Cierra Dillard is the real deal.”
Buffalo guard Cierra Dillard
On potentially playing in her last game and how that motivates her – “I don’t let myself think about that during the course of the game. I just want to play another day for my sisters, it’s not so much about me, I enjoy this group so much, I enjoy this coaching staff, and I love having fun, and I just want to have another day. Playing another day for my sisters and getting another day of memories is what motivates me. People see the beauty on the court but it’s also off the court. It’s the joking, going to the outlets, having fun at dinner time. You guys don’t see the fun we have off the court, but that’s what drives me more.”
On crashing into the scorers table and the play of Summer Hemphill tonight – “My ribs are fine, I mean its march, so you’re going to run into some things, through some things, I’m good though, just doing everything I can to help the team win, and give them energy in any way that I can. I think that those little energy plays like diving on the ground, are more big moments than scoring. I think Summer is the best post in MAC Conference and one of the best posts in the country. People don’t get to see the extraordinary talent, but when we are on this stage you see the pro like skills that are in her. To be only a junior and do what she does is amazing. She hasn’t even peaked yet, she has so much more to show off, and I am just so grateful to have a post like that.
On being back in the NCAA Tournament and getting that first win – “I think that’s the goal of every team when you start the season. WE don’t start this in January of February, we started this last June. This is what we focus on, this is what we worked hard for and I can’t say enough about the coach to the right side of me. Having 7 freshmen come in, after losing one of the best producing classes in UB history, and what she is able to accomplish with such a young team speaks of her resume and her coaching talent. It’s always the goal to get back here, and when we held the MAC championships over our head, we knew we were coming back. When we found out we were playing Rutgers we knew it was going to be a great game. I am just so proud, not only as a player, but as an African American women playing in front of two African American Coaches. You look up to that when you are young, you look up to them and want to be just like them.”
Buffalo forward Summer Hemphill
On always seeming to have an answer for Rutgers tonight – “As Cierra says it’s a game of runs. We knew Rutgers was going to have some scores and runs and we were going to have our scores and runs as well, so it was more about the defensive stops and who would get more defensive stops. That’s what we predicate our UB defense upon and offense as well. As long as we get one stop, we can get one score, and we just take it one possession at a time. It’s amnesia as coach Jack says, we don’t look at the scoreboard or think about what they are doing, we just focus on what we are told.”
On getting the season off to a slow start and how she’s playing now – “I just take it one day at a time and one possession at a time. Whatever I can do to contribute to the team to get the win is all that matters not only to me but the team. I’m a team player, and I put the coaches and my sisters before me and whatever they tell me I need to do, or whatever I am doing wrong and I need to fix it, I am right on it. I really want to do the best for my team because they mean a lot to me. I would love to continue winning and making this city proud."