ALBANY, NY – The magical ride for the University at Buffalo women's basketball team came to an end on Saturday, but not before the Bulls gave defending national champion South Carolina all it could handle in a 79-63 Sweet 16 loss at the Albany Times Union Center. The size and athleticism of the Gamecocks proved to be too much for the Bulls.
"I'm so thrilled to go on this journey with these young ladies," said head coach Felisha Legette-Jack. "What fight, what character. They were so down and they just kept coming and believing and leaving it out there. I'm just really over the moon when it comes to these young ladies."
South Carolina's size, led by All-American A'Ja Wilson, was the difference. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Bulls, 48-21, and scored 20 second-chance points and 52 points in the paint. Wilson, picked by many to be the top pick in the upcoming WNBA draft, finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Buffalo was led by Cierra Dillard who scored 29 points, including four three-pointers. She sparked the Bulls early with 13 points first-quarter points to help UB hold a 17-16 lead after the first stanza.
South Carolina started to establish inside position in the second quarter to outscore the Bulls, 24-14. Stephanie Reid drained a three-pointer right before the halftime horn to cut the South Carolina lead to 40-31.
The Bulls ratcheted up their trademark defensive intensity in the second half and a fast-break layup by Autumn Jones off a beautiful pass from Dillard cut the Bulls' deficit to five early in the fourth quarter. A jumper by Dillard in the lane cut the Gamecocks' advantage to 57-52 with 8:01 left. However, a 12-4 scoring run by South Carolina extended its lead to 68-56 with 4:05 remaining.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Dillard cut the deficit to 70-62 with 3:20 left, but the Bulls wouldn't get any closer and the Gamecocks pulled away for the victory.
Stephanie Reid and Cassie Oursler, both playing in their final games for the Bulls, finished with eight points apiece. Jones also scored eight points, including a pair of three-pointers. Summer Hemphill scored six points.
"Honestly, I couldn't be any more grateful to call Buffalo my second home," said senior Stephanie Reid. "I've had the best three and a half years here. I'm so grateful to Coach Jack. I'm so grateful to all the staff, past and present, that have been there, that have pushed me to where I am today."
Buffalo had 15 steals in the game and forced 26 South Carolina turnovers. However, the Bulls struggled to turn that great defense into offense as UB shot only 35 percent from the field for the game.
The loss capped the greatest season in Buffalo women's basketball history. The Bulls finished with a school-record 29 wins to only six losses and advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.