CLEVELAND — Nine minutes remained in regulation Wednesday afternoon and the University at Buffalo’s second-round game against Miami had reached the moment of truth. The RedHawks were on a run. They had drawn within four with possession. And that’s when UB freshman Mackenzie Loesing took over and willed the Bulls to one of their more significant Mid-American Conference Tournament victories.
Loesing produced a steal off the dribble and went in for a layup good for her first basket of the second half. From then on the game was hers. She struck for a conventional three-point play. She nailed a bomb from behind the arc.
Seventeen of her team-high 24 points came over those final and decisive nine minutes as UB knocked off a 19-win Miami team, 82-70, to gain a shot at No. 3 Akron in today’s quarterfinals.
“I knew that my team needed more from me,” said Loesing, a Cincinnati native. “I knew I wasn’t giving my team enough. I knew that we needed an extra push. … I think in the second half I knew that I had to push and I knew that it all came down to that second half, to that moment, for us to continue.”
The seedings and the record are suggestive of an upset but at most the result mildly surprised. Although the Bulls went 11-19, 8-8, their list of conquests included an eight-point win at Miami on Jan. 31 that indicated they could play with some teams in the upper reaches of the Mid-American Conference.
Miami came in with two key injuries but that doesn’t buy much sympathy. UB lost post player Nytor Longar two games into the season and leading-scorer Rachel Gregory on Jan. 19. Besides, the RedHawks (19-12) still had their top guns, senior guard Courtney Osborn (19.1 points per game) and center Kirsten Olowinski (11.8). The two combined for 44 points (25 by Olowinski) but the Bulls made life difficult for Osborn, who shot just 7 of 23 from the field.
“I think we focus a lot in practice that she is a great player and in order to stop the team, cut off the head of the body,” said UB point guard Margeaux Gupilan. “It was a bit difficult to keep up with her because I did get in foul trouble. However my teammates did talk to me a lot and off the screens I knew she wasn’t going to turn the corner because our bigs were going to show. I just think it was a team stop for one player.”
UB’s offensive approach worked in textbook fashion.
The Bulls buried five first-half threes, two by Sloane Walton, which prompted Miami to extend its defense after intermission. UB responded by pounding it inside, with Kristen Sharkey (14 points) and Christa Baccas (eight points, 15 rebounds) on the finishing end.
“It definitely opened up the inside,” Sharkey said. “They had to stretch their defense and that gave the opportunity for me to go to work, and I had to take the responsibility to be able to finish so that way they would have to double me again so they could get open for the threes again.”
The staggered offensive approach contributed to the victory, but the defensive work proved a vital piece. Miami shot a respectable 43 percent but got to the foul line only eight times compared to a 20-of-27 showing for the Bulls.
“They played more man and surprisingly we were very hesitant on our attacks,” said Miami coach Maria Fantanaresa. “The inside presence on offense we didn’t have enough of and that’s where, if we had that, I don’t know if we would have saw as much man.”
UB was manning up when Loesing turned the game in UB’s favor. She picked the pocket of Hannah Robertson above the key and went in for the layup that ignited her personal rampage.
“She was dribbling in front of me and I was just . … a little bit of luck,” Loesing said. “I saw an opportunity and I took it. From that point forward I think our defense was so tough that whole second half that I think they were a little tentative with the ball, and I think that we really made that a good opportunity for us to go at them.”
Felisha Legette-Jack, UB’s first-year coach, saw the victory as an affirmation of her team’s improvement and a building block for future success.
“It’s a step up,” she said. “It’s just another step toward what we’re trying to create here at Buffalo. At the beginning of the year we knew that we were going to lose some games because we were trying to build a foundation. … This game is just another step of what we’re doing. We’re just starting.”