They took nothing for granted. Last year they went 22-10 and advanced to the Mid-American Conference semifinals. But when Selection Monday came around, the University at Buffalo women’s basketball was left out of every postseason tournament. No NCAA bracket. Not even a sniff at the WNIT.
So even with their body of work this season, a 27-5 mark and a close loss to Central Michigan in the MAC title game, the Bulls were anxious.
They’ve been down this road before.
But as soon as their name flashed on the screen, the anxiety changed to celebration with a rousing chorus of “We going dancing!” over and over and over again.
The Bulls drew the No. 11 seed and will play the University of South Florida in Tallahassee at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
UB women are going dancing. 💃 pic.twitter.com/LuvaGf52hi
— Amy Moritz (@amymoritz) March 12, 2018
They become the second Big 4 women’s team to earn an at-large bid, joining St. Bonaventure which went to the 2012 Sweet Sixteen. Incidentally, the Bonnies played their first and second round games in Tallahassee as well, beating Florida Gulf Coast and Marist to advance to the Sweet 16.
For Buffalo, it’s the second appearance in the NCAA tournament. They went in 2016, earning the automatic bid after winning the MAC championship.
They wanted to claim the MAC autobid again this year, to not leave the postseason decision up to a committee, again. But even in their uncertainty there was an unspoken confidence.
“In order for you to have success you cannot leave it in somebody else’s hands and hope that success will come,” UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “I thought in order for us to be reassured 100 percent (of an NCAA bid) that we would have to go out there and reclaim the MAC conference title and advance. When the opportunity didn’t happen or us to do that, I thought we were in a precarious position again. I looked at all the results of what we’ve done. I’ve said we’ve done the work.”
The Bulls put together a solid resume, fueled by last year’s disappointment. Champions are made in the offseason and the work began during the summer with individual workouts.
“We finished last season, and it was just cut. And we weren’t expecting it to but it was and from that moment I think everyone just turned it up a notch,” said senior Cassie Oursler. “If you came to a workout over the summer you just knew that once we got on the court, magical things are going to happen. Just knowing all the work everyone put in I think it really showed throughout the season.”
It certainly did. This season the Bulls won 11 straight before falling, 96-91, to Central Michigan in the title game.
In that championship game, senior Stephanie Reid went down with an ankle injury with about five minutes left to play. Monday night, Reid said she was going through her rehab.
Is she healthy?
“I will be by Friday or Saturday,” she replied with a smile.
Reid is not ready to be done with her collegiate career, either.
“We have a lot to prove and we worked so hard,” Reid said. “Yeah we’re in, but we’ve been there before and we want to go further. We’re so humbled to be there and to secure an at-large for our conference. But we need to advance. Even though we didn’t claim that (MAC) title, we need to advance.”
It’s the first time since 1996 that the Mid-American Conference got an at-large bid into the NCAA field.
And the Bulls want to show the world what Buffalo women’s basketball is all about.
“We take the game for what it is. It’s a game,” Legette-Jack said. “And we believe that if you go on the court anybody has an opportunity to win and why not us and why not now. We’re fiery. We’re feisty and it’s never a good thing when you’re up by 5 or 7 against us because we’re going to continue to fight. If we get a lead, we’re going to pour it on.
“We really think this game is a microcosm of life and it’s not about the end result of a game, it’s how we position ourselves for the rest of our lives. We take that very seriously. Our young ladies are very determined to become phenomenal women and they want to show their progress and their prowess through the game of basketball.”