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….aaaaand dance by the light of the moon!”

It took a buzzer beater by Stephanie Reid, but for the first time in Buffalo history, the program has won a MAC championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

UB Women’s Basketball wasn’t supposed to here, at least not with this group of women.

After going from one of the deepest frontcourts in the conference in January 2015 to one of the youngest teams in the country by October 2016, the Bulls weren’t supposed to advance to the MAC Semifinal for the second straight year and third time in school history.

Even after upsetting them twice in the regular season, the eighth-seeded UB wasn’t supposed to beat frontrunner Ohio, sitting on a bye in the quarterfinal.

In today’s 88-87 win over fifth-seeded Akron, who beat Buffalo twice in the regular season, the Bulls weren’t supposed to hang with the Zips’ desired pace and outside shooting. They weren’t supposed to hit the half within two – or the final quarter within a single – possessions after Akron came out blazing from three. (The Zips would finish with 15 made threes). And they certainly weren’t supposed to survive losing sophomore point guard Stephanie Reid to her fifth foul midway through the third quarter.

But the Bulls hit plenty of shots…

Others singing, “Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance?”

Hawai’i, representing the Big West. The last time the Wahine went dancin’ it was 1998 and they were “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It” and Will Smith. Senior Ashleigh Karaitiana was four.

“It was all part of the process,” Karaitiana said. “Not just for this year, but the last four years. This is what we worked for, and I’m really proud of the outcome.”

Karaitiana was named tournament MVP after averaging 15 points per game. She shot 6 of 13 from the field to help second-seeded Hawaii earn a measure of redemption after losing the Big West title game last year.

“We were in this game last year and got the result we didn’t want,” she said. “We came into this game more prepared and knowing what we need to do and took care of it on the floor tonight.”

Alabama State, representing the SWAC. No surprise, for a conference that had a three-way tie in the regular season, the final game was edgy affair.
“We knew it was going to be a war,” said Lady Hornets coach Freda Freeman-Jackson, who became the first SWAC coach to lead a team to consecutive tournament titles. “Southern is always a championship-caliber team. We knew we had our work cut out.
Idaho, representing the Big Sky. In the first “all-Idaho” finals, the Vandals got a battle from upstart Idaho State, then dug deep.

Before the hugs, before the smiles and cries, and before the trophy-hoisting, picture-posing and net-cutting, the Idaho women’s basketball team had to come to a realization: This could be the end. 

Trailing Idaho State by three at halftime Saturday in the Big Sky Conference tournament title game, the Vandals understood they were 20 minutes away from falling short of their season-long championship aspirations.

The seniors didn’t want their collegiate careers to end. The freshmen didn’t want their magical debut season to conclude with heartbreak. The coaches didn’t want the work their players put in all year to not pay dividends the way it had in the past.

North Carolina A&T, representing the MEAC. The Aggies handled Coppin State to earn their first championship in seven years, the first for fourth-year coach Tarrell Robinson.

Aprill McRae and Christina decided to transfer from VCU because they believed head coach Tarrell Robinson’s vision for winning a championship at North Carolina A&T State University. Dana Brown had the same aspirations when she transferred from UNC Wilmington.

Courtney Powell decided to play one more season of college basketball as a graduate transfer for the same reason. Perhaps the most inspiring story comes from fifth=year guard Adriana Nazario’s decision to play one more year – despite having graduated and despite having knee problems – in an effort to give this whole winning a championship thing one more try. Their decisions paid off.

James Madison, representing the Colonial. For the third-straight year, the Dukes earned the conference championship (and name collectors, here’s one for ya: Jazmon Gwathmey)

JMU (27-5) will bring a 20-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament. The run includes three wins over the Dragons (19-13), who were looking for their first league title since 2009.

Gwathmey, the CAA Player of the Year, made half of her 18 shots, collected four rebounds and, at the end, absorbed a meaningful hug from her appreciative coach.

“A very special moment,” Brooks said.
“It meant a lot because this is what we work for,” Gwathmey said. “It’s definitely the way you want to go out your senior year, especially winning three in a row.”
New Mexico State, representing the WAC. Payback was on the mind of the Aggies as they routed Rio Grande Valley, 80-53.

It’s the program’s first ever back-to-back conference tournament titles, fourth NCAA Tournament bid and the first consecutive NCAA Tournament bids since 1987 and 1988.

“Going into this game, they kind of ruined our Senior Night,” said senior Sasha Weber, who was named tournament MVP. “Personally, that was a little bit of fuel for me. I know Shanice (Davis) and Abby (Scott) too being seniors. And they snapped our undefeated streak. Especially getting down at 20 at home, we knew coming into this game, a championship game, we had to start off strong and keep up the intensity up.”

Army, representing the Patriot. MVP Kelsey Minato‘s 25  helped propel the Black Knights to win number 29 and send the team back to the NCAA tourney.

“This group of young ladies has just accomplished so much with 99 wins over four years at this level is incredible and they just continue to do what it takes,” Magarity said. “Janae McNeal and the junior class with Aliyah Murray and the Morris twins [Destinee and Daizjah], as well, and I consider my coaching staff the best in America. It’s the best coaching staff I’ve ever had and I’ve had some pretty good coaches.”

He also couldn’t have had many better players than Mina1q. The senior guard – Army’s all-time leading scorer – served in her customary role of scoring when the team needed it most. She scored half of her team’s 20 first-quarter points, including a jumper to conclude the period. By game’s end, she had scored a game-high 25 points, including 4 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.

Middle Tennessee State, representing the C-USA. The Blue Raiders ended ODU’s great run with a confident 70-54 win.

“Sometimes I get caught up in watching them play, instead of coaching them,” Insell said. “They are such a joy to watch, and a lot of people didn’t give us the credit we deserved.”

The second-seeded Blue Raiders (24-8) have won six straight and 15 of their last 16 games, and the conference championship in two of the last three seasons.

 Troy, representing Sun Belt. Known for their offense, Troy’s win came down to… defense. In the last 20 seconds, a score by Ashley Beverly Kelley followed by a win-saving block by Caitlyn Ramirez –  capped the journey of a program’s revival.

Head coach Chanda Rigby inherited a two-win program in 2012, and now just four years later the Troy women’s basketball team is the 2016 Sun Belt Tournament Champions after a 61-60 over Little Rock at Lakefront Arena on Saturday.

Troy will make the second NCAA Tournament appearance in program history, and its first since 1997.

 “Our overall goal and theme was faith, faith was our motto,” Rigby said.  “I felt more out of sync and more out of the groove in this game than probably any game we’ve played the second half of the year.  It was a bad feeling, but the faith – we just kept saying to keep it close.

 “And of course, what happened at the end was nothing that the coaches called.  I believe it was Ashley Beverly Kelley’s faith in the end that she could get the ball in her hands and pull us ahead, and I think faith is what made Caitlyn go up for the blocked shot that sealed it in the end.

Other results:
I TOLD you the Horizon was going to be interesting. In the semis, Northern Kentucky took Green Bay to two overtimes before falling 80-78.
In the Southland, Sam Houston 14-17, 7-11) upset  Northwestern State (19-11, 13-5), 78-71.
As their similar records might have predicted, the Missouri State and Drake game was a back-and-forth affair. The Bears pulled away in the fourth to secure the 65-61 win.

Sunday games (DID YOU SPRING AHEAD?) that will secure the final guaranteed spots in the Tournament:

Southland: Central Arkansas v. Sam Houston State, 12:30PM. The Sugar Bears are the heavy favorite, but we’ve see what THAT means this tourney season…

A-Sun: Florida Gulf Coast v. Jacksonville, 2PM – ESPN3. Yes, the Eagles are the cream of the conference, but Jacksonville’s been making some noise.

Big South: Liberty v. UNC Asheville, 2PM. Liberty has been the traditional power in the conference, but the Bulldogs have undergone a huge transformation under coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick (3 years ago = 2 wins).

NEC: Robert Morris v. Sacred Heart, 3PM. Under (retiring) coach Sal Buscaglia, the Colonials have fought their way to the final and, to be honest, I haven’t really noticed how strong the Stags have been in conference play this year.

MVC: Missouri State v. Northern Iowa, 3PM. This ought to be a great match up between teams with similar records. They split their regular season games. (BTW, UNI’s Tanya Warren should be on AD’s “poachable” list… and in case you’ve missed it, “Hello, coach Kellie Harper!”)

Horizon: Green Bay v Milwaukee, 1PM. Year after year, teams come at the Phoenix, and year after year they get turned back. Last time these two teams met, it was a 23-point loss for the Panthers.

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games left in the first round of post-season play. Saturday’s ticket-punchers included:

Their legs may have given out, but not their hearts. Eastern Michigan stayed even with Ohio through the first half for the MAC championship game, but the Bobcats proved too much for them in the second. Coach Boldon continues to make a name for himself as a transformative winner.

After finishing 9-21 and 6-23 in the previous two seasons, Ohio completely flipped the narrative in 2014-15. Its 27th win surpasses a program record set almost three decades ago.

“It’s fantastic,” Boldon said. “There’s a bunch of cliches for this moment because it’s just hard to put it into words. You work when school starts and, in the fall, these kids show up and you’re selling them on a vision and you hope they’ll buy into what you’re selling.

“This team has truly bought into what we’re doing.”

Savannah State ended MD-E Shore’s run of upsets and claimed their first MEAC title, 65-47.

“It means the world, especially to me,” said Ezinne Kalu. “Well, I’m pretty sure it means the world to all of us, but it’s been a long journey. … We came from being the last seed to being the second seed to being MEAC champions.

“It’s definitely a feeling we’re going to remember for the rest of our lives.”

Lots of oddness in the SWAC this year, but Alabama State could care less.

Alabama State wrapped up an NCAA tournament berth Friday with its semifinal victory in the SWAC because Southern was ineligible after failing to meet minimum APR requirements

That wasn’t enough. The Lady Hornets wanted a ring and the prestige that comes with winning the conference tournament.

They got it.

Jasmine Peeples had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Britney Wright added 17 points to help Alabama State beat Southern 73-55 on Saturday.

“I told my girls, ‘We want the hats. We want the T-shirts, we want the trophy and we want the ring.’ And they bought into it and thought the same thing,” Alabama State coach Freda Freeman-Jackson said. “When I mentioned to these ladies they said they want to win.”

The Rainbow wasn’t enough, as Hawai’i was upset by Cal-State Northridge, 67-60.

The best thing to do against shot-blockers? Make them block shots.

To do otherwise, to retreat to safe perimeters and hoist 3-pointers out of fear, is to surrender before you start.

Hawaii returned 11 shots to their senders on Saturday at Honda Center.

That is one reason CSUN is the repeat winner of the Big West Conference women’s basketball tournament.

“It’s the old Bill Russell thing,” coach Jason Flowers said, after the 67-60 victory.

“They were blocking them out of bounds. We kept possession. Just because it might not work the first time, it doesn’t mean you stop doing it. It’s the character of the group. They kept their head down and they kept attacking.”

Montana spotted Northern Colorado a 13-point lead, and then roared back to claim the Big Sky title, 60-49.

“Unbelievably good win and it was an unbelievable game,” said Montana coach Robin Selvig, whose team trailed 29-16 at halftime. “They I thought were pretty dominant the first half. We were having a hard time. They’re really good right now, really well-coached.

“… I was really wondering how we were going to turn it around second half. Somehow these guys just put together maybe the best run of basketball we’ve had in a long time for about 10 minutes.”

New Mexico State survived all the WHB attention and claimed their first WAC title…and their first NCAA bid since 1988. For reference, and perhaps appropriately enough, George Michael’s Faith topped the charts.

“We recruited them, we went to their homes, we sold New Mexico State as hope,” NMSU coach Mark Trakh said. “We told them what could happen. Now we can sell a program because we have built a program.”

This year’s team was also the program’s first team to win a conference tournament.

As expected, Southern Miss gave Western Kentucky all it could handle, and then some. But the Toppers prevailed.

Alexis Govan did it all with the game on the line: making free throws, taking a charge and grabbing a rebound.

Govan scored 22 points and made two free throws with 23 seconds left and Western Kentucky held on for a 60-57 win over Southern Mississippi Saturday night in the Conference USA tournament championship game.

“I looked at her and said, `Alexis, that ball’s going to you,'” Western Kentucky coach Michelle Clark-Heard said. “When she went to the free throw line, I don’t look at her because I don’t want to make her nervous.”

That in-state rivalry delivered, as Arkansas-Little Rock escaped Arkansas State, 78-72.

After allowing a season-high 38 points in the first half and continuing to give up easy baskets for most of the second half, Little Rock, the nation’s third-stingiest defense, turned up the intensity when it mattered most.

“If we couldn’t play defense like we did and count on it, we wouldn’t have won that ball game,” coach Joe Foley said. “Our kids always knew in the back of their minds that we could get some stops at the end of the game if we kept it close.”

American claimed their first Patriot title, pulling away from Lehigh in the second for the 66-50 win.

After coming up short in four previous trips to the Patriot League finals, American (24-8) won its final eight regular season games plus three in the postseason and will represent the Patriot League as the automatic qualifier for the first time. The Eagles now await an announcement of their destination for the opening round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament which gets under way at 16 sites on March 21-22. The tournament field and matchups will be unveiled at 7 p.m. on Monday evening.

“I don’t even know how to describe it,” said American senior forward Arron Zimmerman. “I was just saying, I was standing there in the corner when the shot clock was running down there and it was just a moment from my dreams. I’ve dreamed of this and it was awesome.”

Sunday games:

NEC, 1pm: St. Francis (Brooklyn) looks to pull the major upset against last year’s conference champ, Robert Morris.

This marks the first time a No. 1 seed has not played in the NEC title game and the first time a No. 5 seed has reached the final since 2010, when No. 5 St. Francis (Pa.) defeated No. 2 Long Island. 

It is the Terriers’ first appearance in the championship game. In addition to upsetting top-seeded Central Connecticut State in double overtime, they also defeated Sacred Heart on the road in the quarterfinals. 

Those wins followed end-of-season victories at Bryant and rival LIU Brooklyn.

CAA, 1PM – COMCAST Sports Net: James Madison has rolled through the regular season conference schedule… except for that one-point loss at home against Hofstra. And they just escaped Elon by three. What kind of motivation with that inspire as they face the Pride, who are in their first ever title match?A-SUN, 2:30: Florida Gulf Coast is already packing their bags for the NCAA. But that doesn’t mean that Northern Kentucky doesn’t want snatch the conference crown out of their hands.

Southland, 1PM: An incredible run for the 9th seed Houston Baptist. They took down McNeese State by 1, Corpus Christi by 2, and then knocked off top-seed Stephen F. Austin by 7. How much will they have left in the tank wen they go up against Northwestern State? The Demons overcame a 14-point, second-half deficit to knock off second-seeded Lamar, 70-64, in overtime and reach their second straight SLC Tournament championship game.

Horizon, 3PM – ESPNU/3: Wright State has lost twice this season to Green Bay, both times by double digits. Let’s see if they have better luck this time. I doubt the Phoenix will take them for granted, especially after the battle they had with the Penguins.

MVC, 3PM – ESPN3: Since coach Adams arrived, the Valley has belonged to Wichita State.The Shockers will go for the conference title against Wright State, who they’ve beaten twice this season. Oh, and someone is wondering if Kansas might be looking at WSU’s Jody Adams.

Wichita State head coach Jody Adams, the first potential candidate in this, the latest KU coaching-search blog, has done a remarkable job in building a winner and bringing positive attention to the Shockers’ women’s program.

Wichita State’s Missouri Valley Conference records in seven seasons before Adams took over: 8-10, 7-10, 7-11, 2-16, 8-10, 4-14, 3-15. That’s 17-55 in the four seasons leading up to Admas’ first.

Under Adams: 4-14, 8-10, 10-8, 12-6, 15-3, 14-4, 17-1. That’s 46-8 in Adams’ past three seasons. Phenomenal. Adams has taken the Shockers from worst in the Missouri Valley to first.

 

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