By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
For a few moments there, anything seems possible in the women’s basketball game between the University at Buffalo and eighth-ranked Stanford on Friday afternoon.
The Bulls had gone on an 8-3 run to cut the Cardinal lead to 46-44 with 6:38 to play. Stanford called timeout, giving the more than 3,000 in attendance a chance to enjoy the moment and savor the possibilities. Did UB have enough to continue its run and knock off one of the nation’s top teams?
The answer was no. Stanford scored the next eight points, and that was the difference. The Cardinal headed back to the West Coast with a 62-55 win over UB.
Nobody likes to lose, especially at this level, but it’s wasn’t difficult to see the moral victory in the outcome for the home team .
“What an opportunity to have this situation, to have the No. 8 team in the country join us,” Bulls coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. “It shows a little bit how we’ve grown, and how the expectations of the program have grown.
“It’s not a case of ‘Oh my God.’ We have positioned ourselves to be right here with the best in the country. … I was really proud of our conference and of our team.”
Stanford deserves plenty of credit for its defensive work at crunch time. The Bulls missed seven straight shots when the game was up for grabs.
“I’d take those seven shots all day,” Legette-Jack said. “Those are shots that can go in. Those are shots that we practice. Those are shots that we believe will help us in March. They have a longer wingspan that we are accustomed to. We might have to adjust, dribble and then take the shot. But to not take the shot isn’t right.”
“This wasn’t a pretty game,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “I called it a gritty game. It was a lot like Buffalo, a gritty city.”
VanDerveer should know. The Hall of Fame coach returned to her old home town to coach one of her teams against a Western New York opponent in Buffalo for the first time. Two of Stanford’s players are from Ontario (Toronto and Barrie), and this allowed them to play closer to home.
That was the reason for the game, but that doesn’t mean VanDerveer didn’t take advantage of the chance to have a homecoming here. It started on Thursday, when VanDerveer spoke at her old high school, Buffalo Seminary.
“It was surreal,” she said. “I think the last time I was sitting down there, I might have been 18. Now 47 years later, I wished that I could tell that kid what I know now. It was emotional for me. It was great to meet the high school kids.”
On Friday, the school declared something of a holiday for part of the day – and sent the entire student body (220) to the game. They created a cheering section just for VanDerveer and Stanford, sitting right behind the Cardinal bench. How many visiting coaches get a loud cheer when they are introduced before the game?
“That was really nice, wasn’t it?” she said.
A half-hour before tip-off, the lines in the lobby to buy tickets were quite long, a rare sight at a women’s game in this area. The crowd of 3,412 more than doubled Buffalo’s other home game this season – a win over Niagara on Nov. 14. And that one was played on a Wednesday night; this took place at noon on a Friday, something less than prime time.
Smith is superb
Those fans in attendance had a treat in seeing Alanna Smith in action. The 6-foot-4 senior is one of those rare talents that seems comfortable playing any position on the floor. She can post up a smaller player and earn a lay-up, as well as launch a three-pointer when it’s open.
“I was really excited for Alanna,” VanDerveer said. “She was aggressive, had three blocks. What a great stat line – going 12 for 22 from the field, 4 for 9 in threes, 2 for 2 from free throw line, 13 rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers.”
In other words, she collected everything but a partridge in a pear tree in her last game before the holiday break. Just think – UB was one of the first American schools to recruit the native of Melbourne, Australia, before word got out about her talents and Stanford convinced her to attend that university.
UB’s Cierra Dillard – the nation’s leading scorer – kept up with Smith as best she could, and scored 21 points. The Bulls only shot 27.5 percent for the game, including a 1-for-15 start in three-pointers in the first half. UB forced the Cardinal into 19 turnovers and had 18 offensive rebounds.
The Bulls are 7-3 after the loss. Only St. Bonaventure remains on the schedule before UB starts playing conference games against Mid-American Conference opponents. Games like Friday can be a building block toward bigger things in the weeks ahead – especially at tournament in time in March.
“We know we belong,” Legette-Jack said.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)