BUFFALO, NY - The Buffalo women's basketball team was able to erase a 12-point Akron (20-8, 14-3) lead in the second half of its Wednesday night matchup, but in a game where every possession would be valuable, late errors would prove costly in a 79-71 loss. Four Bulls (16-12, 9-8 MAC) would score in double figures, led by Kristen Sharkey's 20.
The loss would ultimately not hurt the team's immediate seed in the Mid-American Conference tournament - which starts on Monday - as the team remains in the coveted fourth seed following a Western Michigan loss at Central Michigan.
The first half was as close as the first meeting between the two teams, albeit lower scoring. There would be three lead changes and five ties through the first 20 minutes. The Zips led 33-31 with two minutes to go and would score the final four points to take a six-point lead, its biggest of the game to that point. Sharkey and Mackenzie Loesing would account for half of the team's first-half scoring, but Akron would find success on the boards, out-rebounding UB 26-16 in the half en route to a commanding 48-31 advantage in the game.
The Bulls started the second half slow, and allowed the Zips to take a 12-point lead just two minutes after play resumed. The visitors appeared to be pulling away through the first media timeout, but the Bulls would respond to make for an exciting finish. Down 52-41 with 14:47, the combination of Sharkey and freshman Alexus Malone would spur on a 15-4 run that would tie the game with 9:17 still to go. The duo would combine for 11 of those 15 points.
Thanks to a quick 9-2 run that came around the under-eight media timeout, Buffalo would claim a 65-61 lead with 4:30 to play before the first major swing would come against them. Malone would grab a defensive rebound and then got the ball on the top of the circle. She caught the pass and put up a three, sinking it easily. It would be waved off, though, as the referee called a traveling violation on her jump stop. What would have become a seven-point UB lead remained at just four, and the Zips would use a 6-0 run over the next two minutes to take the lead for good.
Malone would be stung again by the whistle with just a minute left to go in the game. Down 72-69, Malone scored off an offensive rebound on the weak side after Sharkey missed a short jumper. The putback, that would have cut it to just one with 55 seconds left, instead would be her fifth and disqualifying foul and gave Akron two free throws.
The finish marred another thrilling matchup between the two teams, and a number of terrific individual efforts. Malone and Sharkey would combine for 31 points, 18 rebounds and six steals, and the team had a career day from senior Jenna Rickan.
Rickan was effective on both ends of the court, scoring seven points and handing out five highlight-reel assists on offense while blocking three shots and making a steal on the defensive end. The Bulls would have four players reach double figures in scoring, with Loesing (18) and Margeaux Gupilan (11) also charging up the offense.
The defense had a strong night trying to pester an Akron offense that ranks among the nation's best, forcing 19 turnovers and making 12 steals.
It all comes down to the final day of the regular season for the Bulls, who will be sending out its three-member senior class out with a great deal left to play for. The team hosts Kent State Saturday at noon, as part of a doubleheader with the men, and controls its own destiny.
With a win, the Bulls would receive a bye to the third round as the fourth seed. It owns a one-game lead on Toledo (via the head-to-head tiebreaker), and Western Michigan and Ball State (both 8-9). The Rockets and Cardinals face one another in the season finale, while the Broncos travel to take on Northern Illinois. A UB loss coupled with wins by Ball State and Northern Illinois would also give UB the four seed, as it owns a tiebreaker on the Cardinals as well.