Published March 15, 2016
The UB women’s basketball team is heading to Columbus, Ohio, for the NCAA Tournament, and you can bet a good chunk of the world will be watching.
With seven foreign players on the roster, the Bulls will have fans rooting for them from Grand Island, New York, all the way to Australia.
UB drew the No. 14 seed in the Sioux Falls Region bracket and will play at No. 3 Ohio State at 2:30 p.m. EST Friday. The game will be televised live on ESPN2. It will air at 6:30 a.m. Saturday in Australia, where friends and family of the four Aussies on the Bulls roster will surely be watching. The Netherlands, Canada and Bosnia & Herzegovina are also represented on the UB roster.
The Bulls learned their fate as part of Selection Monday, a nationally televised event on ESPN during which the entire 64-team field was announced. A watch party took place at Santora’s Pizza Pub and Grill on Transit Road in Williamsville, where fans got to hear from UB players and head coach Felisha Legette-Jack in person before the big reveal. Fans erupted in cheers as soon as UB’s name was announced, just past 7:30 p.m.
This will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the UB women’s program. It’s also the first trip to the Big Dance for Legette-Jack, who coached at Hofstra and Indiana before coming to Buffalo in 2012. This is her fourth season with the Bulls. UB punched its ticket to the tournament by winning the Mid-American Conference tourney title this past weekend in dramatic fashion.
“It’s a dream that’s come to fruition,” Legette-Jack told the crowd at the Selection Monday watch party. “It’s been four years and we’ve been taking baby steps and you guys kept coming, you kept believing in us and here we are trying to compete for more championships,” she added, thanking Bulls fans for their support.
UB overcame huge odds in its run to the NCAA Tournament, also known as the Big Dance. At the beginning of the season, MAC coaches picked the Bulls to finish last in their division. Instead, they ended up being the ones cutting the nets down in Cleveland last weekend after winning the conference tournament title.
“We are so thrilled to be a part of this wonderful day in history. We have made history,” UB Athletic Director Allen Greene said Monday night. “You have made us so proud, the way that you have battled through adversity. You have exceeded expectations. And my goodness, the way that you compete is inspiring.”
The fact that the UB men are also going dancing — they play Miami in Providence, Rhode Island, on Thursday — makes the women’s appearance even more special.
Having both teams in NCAA Tournament is something most Bulls fans thought would happen only in their dreams. And the short timeframe between the two games had Greene jokingly asking if anyone in the crowd owned a private jet they’d be willing to loan so he could attend both games.
While this will be UB’s first time in the tournament, there’s one player on the roster who has been in the Big Dance before. Cassie Oursler, a junior from Grand Island, played at Robert Morris University, which went to the tournament in 2014. She transferred to UB last year.
“March Madness is such an awesome thing. There are so many people at the games and it’s so high profile. It’s a great experience,” said Oursler, the lone Western New Yorker on either Bulls’ roster. “I’m Buffalo born and raised, so it’s a huge deal to bring a championship home, along with the men’s team, and get to the tournament in my first season here at UB.”
It’s also special for the four Australian players who traveled halfway across the globe to play basketball in America. Several of them were recruited by UB assistant coach and Aussie native Cherie Cordoba, who got a taste of the tournament as a player with UNLV in 1994.
“Having kids that come from where I come from, I’m really proud that they believed in the unknown because they didn’t know coach Jack, they didn’t really know me, and they’ve come a long way,” Cordoba said. “I’m so happy they’ll have the opportunity to experience the tournament. I’m proud of all of them, not just the Aussies. They truly are a great group.”
The women's send-off rally is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday in Alumni Arena.