STORRS, CT – The special season for the University at Buffalo women's basketball team came to an end on Sunday but not before the Bulls gave second-seeded Connecticut all it could handle in an 84-72 loss at Gampel Pavilion.
Senior Cierra Dillard ended her illustrious career in the blue and white with a game-high 29 points, including three triples, while adding seven rebounds, seven assists, and three steals. The 29 points was the most scored by an individual player against the Huskies this season.
"What a great team I have," head coach Felisha Legette-Jack said. "What fighters I have, what resiliency I was able to be a part of. They punched us and they tried to knock us out. That's what great teams do but tough teams don't let that punch define them, they keep coming back, they keep fighting. I think that we really went out there and did a tremendous job of getting the respect of the nation."
"I can't even put into words how much impact Cierra has had not just on me but on the Buffalo program since she's been here," junior Summer Hemphill said. "She's really like a big sister to each of us and we all look up to her. She welcomes us with open arms with anything we need. She's so smart with her basketball IQ and great off the court as well and we're really going to miss her. She believes in each and every one of us and is so extremely talented. She is the best player I have ever played with and I'm thankful and grateful to have been able to play with Cierra Dillard."
The Huskies were led by First-Team All-American forward Napheesa Collier who had a team-high 27 points and 16 rebounds. Christyn Williams (17 pts), Katie Lou Samuelson (17 pts) and Crystal Dangerfield (11 pts) also scored in double figures.
The Huskies threw the first punch, opening the game on a 9-0 run to force an early UB timeout and would extend it to 15-0 before Jones found Hemphill to put UB on the board at the 5:46 mark. UConn would push the lead to as many as 21 but the Bulls closed the quarter on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 27-15 after one. The Bulls were just 5-of-20 from the floor while committing eight turnovers in the opening quarter.
UConn charged ahead once again, opening the second quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 38-17 lead before an Onwuka and-one stopped the bleeding to make it 38-20 at the 6:30 mark, but it did little to slow the Huskies as UConn took a 45-24 lead at the media timeout. UConn took its largest lead of the game, 48-24, at the 4:25 mark but there was no quit in the Bulls as they closed the half on a 13-4 run, connecting on 6-of-8 shots while holding the Huskies without a field goal over the last two plus minutes, to cut the lead to 52-37 at the break.
UConn continued to attack out of the break, opening the third quarter on a 5-2 run to take a 57-37 lead. Dillard drilled a triple to cut it to 59-42 at the 7:14 mark but the Huskies answered with an 8-2 run to take a 67-44 lead at the media timeout. The Bulls continued to fight, closing the quarter on an 11-6 run, with eight of those points coming from Hemphill and Dillard, to get the deficit to 73-55 at the end of the third.
Dillard led the Bulls on a 5-0 run to start the fourth to cut the lead to 73-60 and would extend it to a 9-2 run to make it 75-64 at the 6:53 mark and force a UConn timeout. Neither team scored over the next two plus minutes as the score remained the same at the final media timeout. Two Morrison free throws on the other side of the media cut the lead back to single digits, 75-66 but a Collier basket, the first UConn field goal in over five minutes, put the Huskies up 77-67 with 2:16 remaining. Dillard continued to battle, fighting through contact for a bucket to cut the lead back to eight, 79-71 with 1:10 to go but that would be as close as they would get as the Huskies held on for the victory.
The 12 point margin of victory was the closest for the Huskies at Gampel Pavilion since February 12, 2018 against Louisville. Buffalo won the battle of the boards 48-45. The 48 rebounds is tied for the most by a UConn opponent this season. The Bulls scored 15 points off of 14 UConn turnovers and converted 28 second chance points, but struggled offensively shooting just 32.9% from the field for the game and were outscored 40-28 in the paint.
"I can't stand to lose and my teammates can't stand to lose either so this one hit us hard," senior Cierra Dillard said. "I definitely think that we fought hard. A lot of people come in here and get blown out, a lot of ranked teams get beat. They can't say they walked over us. UConn can't say that Buffalo didn't give them a fight, that we laid down. I think if we had five more minutes we could have given them a run for their money."
The Bulls finished with a 24-10 overall record and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history.