Buffalo is in a weird spot. UB is a Have. UB is a legitimate threat in the MAC. UB has good young talent. UB is in a place in which it has never been.
After starting last season 1-9, the Bulls went 11-11 the rest of the way, including an 8-8 mark in the MAC and advancing to the league tournament quarterfinals. The eight conference wins were tied for the third most since UB joined the league. UB, always the earnest pursuer, is picked third in the league’s East Division. In the Bulls’ humble opinion, that’s too low.
“We certainly don’t think of ourselves as third,” second-year coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “We don’t think of ourselves as someone is going to be better than us. We have a lot of respect for everyone in our conference, but we’re here to tell our story.”
The story begins with depth. Legette-Jack believes she has eight players who can start, which means juggling minutes could be tricky.
“We might be up by three and you have to sub in, but you haven’t played in the last three games,” she said. “Our practices are going to be like you’re a starter, you’re part of this thing.”
In the Bulls’ recent exhibition game against Buffalo State, 11 players saw action, with each playing double digits in minutes. Forward Kristen Sharkey, the team’s leading scorer last season, and versatile guard Margeaux Gupilan earned the most minutes with 26 each. Don’t read anything into the fact that Mackenzie Loesing played only 18 minutes because there will be times when the Bulls sophomore will be over 30 a night.
Loesing, the Big 4 preseason Player of the Year, led the Bulls in scoring, field goals, free throws and steals, which earned her a spot on the league’s All-Freshman team and an honorable mention All-MAC pick. As much as Legette-Jack likes to hammer home the point about more balance, it is Loesing who makes the Bulls go – at least until Rachel Gregory returns. Gregory played in the first 17 games of last season and averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds before suffering a season-ending knee injury. It was a good thing that Cherridy Thornton, who joined the Bulls as a mid-year transfer, was added to the roster when Gregory was lost to injury. The senior forward played in the final 22 games, and averaged 10.8 points.
Legette-Jack is a Syracuse native who graduated from the university so – surprise! – the Bulls will play zone.
Keys to success
Sharkey and junior Christa Baccas were the primary post players last season, with Gregory seeing time in both forward spots.
Legette-Jack has a five-person rotation with the addition of 6-foot freshman Nia Roberts, but Gregory might not return from her knee injury until January. They’ll need Gregory in order to become more active on the defensive glass, where the Bulls ranked last in the conference in rebounding defense.
“She’s doing great right now and boy I want to put her in right now,” Legette-Jack said. “She wants it. She’s a future coach and just loves the game so much.”
Three-point shooting could be a problem. In two exhibition victories they hit just 5 of 27 but if Sloane Walton, the Nichols product, can make a leap similar to what she did last year when she led the Bulls in three-point shooting, they should be fine. Same goes for sophomore guard Karin Moss, a relative of former NFL receiver Randy Moss, who shot 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Youngstown State, 23-10 last season, will be a tough road game on Nov. 13, as is the game at Pittsburgh Dec. 1, but for the Bulls, it’s all about the MAC. Playing at Bowling Green on Jan. 4 serves as a good early-league test and Central Michigan comes to Alumni on Jan. 12, the first of three consecutive home games.
After having cold buckets of water splashed in their face annually, the Bulls get much-needed enthusiasm and hope from Legette-Jack. While most of the core is young and they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone, Legette-Jack has steadied the program and the future is promising.