If you closed your eyes when the University at Buffalo’s men’s and women’s basketball teams had their seasons end suddenly on Sunday evening, you could almost hear Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” playing in the background.
That was the song heard when “The Sopranos” forever went to black on HBO, but it also could be an anthem for fans of the two basketball teams, whose seasons will be etched in local lore for years to come.
Both Bulls squads made believers of anyone who watched them this weekend. After the men dispatched Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State team on Friday, they came up short against a big and athletic Texas Tech team, losing 78-58 in Tulsa, Okla.
Coach Nate Oats’ Bulls finished the season 32-4, the program’s best record ever and among the best in the nation.
The women’s team also came up short, but its performance Sunday was even more impressive. Facing the University of Connecticut on the Huskies’ home court, the Bulls battled all the way in an 84-72 defeat. UConn, a perennial powerhouse in women’s basketball, won its 94th straight home game.
Cierra Dillard, the Bulls’ emotional leader, hobbled off the court in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury that would have ended the evening for most players. But Dillard, a senior guard, willed herself back into the game, sinking free throws and a layup as the Bulls chipped away at UConn’s 15-point margin.
It was a great display of courage for Dillard in her final game as Bull.
The UB women (24-10), coached by Felisha Legette-Jack, were making their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. “UConn cannot say that Buffalo didn’t give them a fight,” Dillard said Sunday.
The men were making their fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
Both teams will have to reload next year. Dillard leaves as UB’s top women’s player ever, while the men will be hard-pressed to replace seniors Jeremy Harris, CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins.
For now, as the song says, we can hold on to that feeling after two stellar seasons of basketball.