Ashley Zahn missed her first six shots. With six minutes left in the game, she had yet to score a point.
Then she hit a three-pointer. Then another. And suddenly she had scored 10 straight points for St. Bonaventure, which kept its Big 4 winning streak intact with a 64-55 win over the University at Buffalo in front of 1,357 at Alumni Arena om Wednesday night.
Zahn finished with 19 points, all scored in the final 6:19 of the game.
“[Coaches] told me all throughout the first half to keep my head up,” said the junior guard, who entered the starting lineup this year. “They know I’ve worked on shooting the ball and told me to stick with it. I was focused more when the first one fell in and my teammates started finding me.”
“Ashley wasn’t shooting well in the first half, but it didn’t stop me from getting the ball to her,” junior forward Doris Ortega said. “Sometimes she doesn’t take the shot, and that’s when I go up to her and say ‘You’re open. You’re a shooter. Take it.’ In the second half she held her head up and I’ve been playing with her long enough that when the first one went in, I knew we had to keep getting her the ball.”
The spurt by Zahn helped the Bonnies end a 9-0 run by the Bulls, who had turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead.
The Bulls had impressive energy, especially on the boards and in transition. While the Bonnies had better overall rebounding numbers, Buffalo had 18 offensive rebounds, 10 by freshman Rachael Gregory, and scored 20 points off 20 Bona turnovers.
Buffalo used aggressive play, attacking the rim and loose balls, to make its run. The Bonnies did something they haven’t been able to do much this season — weather the storm.
“I just think the difference today was that in the past couple of games, [when teams have made runs] we didn’t handle it well,” said Ortega, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds. “Some put their heads down. Returners got frustrated. Today when they made their run, coaches told us, this was not going to affect our game. We got back on the court and turned it up another notch.”
The Bulls (1-8) struggled with adjusting their game as the second half was called tighter than the first. With two freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup, Buffalo is young and learning how to handle game situations.
Gregory was impressive, netting 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. She fueled the aggressiveness of the Bulls, getting points by getting to the rim and working off offensive rebounds. She seemed to be in the middle of every loose ball opportunity, something that an attacking Bulls team is starting to learn how to use to its advantage.
“A game can be won off a 50-50 ball,” Gregory said. “You never want to think, ‘What if I had gotten that ball? What could we have done with an extra possession?’ You want to keep fighting hard in there. Those loose balls are important.”
“[Rachael Gregory] is an unbelievably aggressive player,” UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “She has the will of a lion. She has no fear. Unfortunately as a freshman she has to play 37 minutes a game and learn at the same time.”
With the win, the Bonnies (5-5) extended their Big 4 winning streak to 17 games. Bona played without junior guard CeCe Dixon. Dixon did not dress due to an internal issue with the team. She may return Saturday when the Bonnies close out their eight-game road trip at No. 23 West Virginia.
Buffalo continues its four-game home stand Saturday, hosting Binghamton in the first part of a doubleheader. The women’s game tips off at 5 with the men hosting Niagara in the nightcap.