UB women cap­ture con­fer­ence ti­tle

The Buffalo News - - WORLD NEWS - By Rachel Lenzi

CLEVE­LAND — The ex­cite­ment and the an­tic­i­pa­tion were ev­i­dent for the Univer­sity at Buf­falo women’s bas­ket­ball team as they col­lected the Mid-Amer­i­can Con­fer­ence Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship tro­phy and brushed the con­fetti out of their hair.

The relief was ob­vi­ous. Not so much the relief of earn­ing an au­to­matic berth in the NCAA Tour­na­ment, but the relief of hold­ing off Ohio in the fi­nal six min­utes of a 77-61 win in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game Satur­day at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls (23-9) won their first MAC Tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship since 2016 and their sec­ond in pro­gram his­tory.

“It’s just un­be­liev­able to play,” said UB guard Cierra Dil­lard, the tour­na­ment’s most valu­able player. “It wasn’t just Ohio, it wasn’t just Cen­tral Michi­gan, it wasn’t just Kent State. We just played through ev­ery­thing we went through this sea­son. We went through a lot. And we stepped it up this weekend, to hold that tro­phy up.”

UB led by as many as 20 points in the first three quarters, but the Bob­cats cut UB’s ad­van­tage to 6557 with 5:46 re­main­ing on Do­minique Doseck’s 3-pointer, her fifth of the game.But less than two min­utes later, the Bulls con­verted off a

turnover, and Sum­mer Hem­phill’s layup off a fast­break opened UB’s lead to 10 points.

Dil­lard led the Bulls with 22 points and cred­ited her team’s abil­ity to re­main poised in a pres­sure sit­u­a­tion as a rea­son for keep­ing the Bob­cats (27-5) from get­ting any closer – a re­flec­tion, she said, of UB coach Fel­isha Legette-Jack.

“The poise, and what we went through,” said Dil­lard, who has scored in dou­ble fig­ures in all 32 games this sea­son. “Cen­tral Michi­gan, they came back (in the semi­fi­nals). We had a lead and they took the lead by four. We’ve got to stay poised and that’s what coach prides her­self on, keep­ing calm.”

But as for the relief of earn­ing an NCAA Tour­na­ment berth, when the Bulls were pro­jected for so long as a low-seeded at-large team? The Bulls didn’t see it that way, even as ESPN pro­jected them as an 11 seed en­ter­ing the MAC Tour­na­ment. They looked at the MAC cham­pi­onship and an NCAA berth as achiev­ing the goals they’d set. The 64-team field will be an­nounced Mon­day night.

“We stayed locked in, all sea­son, know­ing what our goals were,” said UB guard Hanna Hall, who scored 17 points and had seven as­sists. “Our goals were to be bet­ter than last year and to keep get­ting bet­ter.

“I’d call this, ‘We de­served it, we earned it, we worked for this.”

The Bulls set a sin­gle-game pro­gram record with 13 3-point­ers, but Hem­phill pro­vided the most jaw­drop­ping per­for­mance. Hem­phill, a ju­nior for­ward, scored 16 points and 21 re­bounds, and set a record for re­bounds in a MAC Tour­na­ment game. Five play­ers held the pre­vi­ous record of 19 re­bounds in a tour­na­ment game.

“I was just go­ing af­ter every sin­gle board,” Hem­phill, a Car­di­nal O’Hara grad­u­ate, said. “At this point in the sea­son, it’s now or never, so I was will­ing to do any and ev­ery­thing to get every board that I needed to. Get around, box out and grab it.”

Hem­phill ac­knowl­edged that she had no idea she’d set a tour­na­ment record. For per­spec­tive, Hem­phill grabbed eight fewer re­bounds than Ohio did as a team (29).

“She does a great job of pur­su­ing the bas­ket­ball,” Ohio coach Bob Boldon. “They put her in po­si­tions where she can do so, ob­vi­ously, play­ing that bot­tom part of the zone, and they do play a lot of zone against us. So she’s around the bas­ket a lot, and we missed enough shots for her to gather them, that’s for sure.”

Hem­phill av­er­ages 10.6 re­bounds per game and has a team-best 255 this sea­son, de­spite miss­ing the first nine games due to aca­demic in­el­i­gi­bil­ity.

“Just be­cause she was in­el­i­gi­ble doesn’t mean she isn’t smart, and it doesn’t mean she doesn’t care, it doesn’t mean she’s not a good player,” Legette-Jack said. “It just means she’s go­ing to be on the shelf for nine games.

“Every day she sat out, I saw her get more and more ma­ture. And she got bet­ter as a per­son. She got bet­ter as a stu­dent and had a 3.3 (grade­point aver­age) last se­mes­ter. Things that hap­pen, that you can’t con­trol, you learn lessons from it and you grow from that, and Sum­mer Hem­phill has grown from that.”

Now, Hem­phill and the Bulls have blos­somed at the per­fect time, as the Bulls pre­pare for their third NCAA Tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance in four years.

“We put our­selves in the right spot to get to the NCAA’s but com­ing into this weekend, we had one goal,” Dil­lard said. “To walk out with a MAC cham­pi­onship and to walk out with (cham­pi­onship) hats on our heads.”

Pho­tos by James P. McCoy/Buf­falo News

UB’s Cierra Dil­lard holds up the cham­pi­onship tro­phy in celebration with team­mates af­ter de­feat­ing Ohio in the Women’s MAC Tour­na­ment on Satur­day.

UB’s Sum­mer Hem­phill scores two points against Ohio in the fourth quar­ter at Quicken Loans Arena on Satur­day.

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