Buffalo coach Felisha Legette-Jack received two important text messages before her 11th-seeded team faced No. 6 seed South Florida in the women's NCAA Tournament.
The first came from Buffalo men's coach Nate Oats on early Friday after the Bulls upset Arizona in the first round. The second came from Central Michigan's Sue Guevara prior to Saturday's tipoff after the Chippewas pulled off their own upset of LSU.
Both had the same message — "It's your turn now."
The Bulls lived up to that message, getting its first victory in tournament play with a 102-79 victory in a first-round Albany Regional game. With the win, Buffalo will face third-seeded Florida State on Monday.
"All they wanted was a chance to dance and to be on the stage and just to see what they can become. Today the magic happened," Lagette-Jack said.
Cierra Dillard scored a career-high 36 points, including seven 3-ponters, as Buffalo made a season-high 14 from beyond the arc
"Starting with the last five minutes of the first half, we were just feeling it; making stops, getting steals and just finding the flow of the offense," said Dillard, after tying for the third-most points in a game in school history. "When we push in transition, we're a transition team and the offense just flows naturally."
Buffalo trailed 29-18 midway through the second quarter but went on a 20-7 run to close the half and take a 43-38 lead at halftime. Courtney Wilkins, who came off the bench to score 23, had eight points during the run and Stephanie Reid added six.
Buffalo continued its momentum at the start of the third quarter, scoring 13 of the first 15 points, including eight by Dillard. South Florida was within 82-68 four minutes into the fourth quarter but Buffalo put it away with a 14-2 run.
"I think we are a consistent team and we are notorious for not starting well lately," said Reid, who had 19 points and eight assists. "When we were down 11, that didn't faze us because we know we are strong and can go 40 minutes deep."
Buffalo also had a strong game on defense, forcing six steals and 12 turnovers which led to 25 points. It was also 22 of 24 from the foul line.
Buffalo (28-5) was 14 of 27 from the 3-point line, including 7 of 13 from Dillard. Courtney Wilkins added 23 points and Reid 19. Buffalo was also strong from the foul line, making 22 of 24.
Kitija Laksa led South Florida (26-8) with 28 points and Maria Jespersen added 23 points and 11 rebounds. USF was 32 of 63 from the field, but was 7 of 23 on 3-pointers.
"Whenever they did miss shots, they seem to get all the offensive rebounds or we ran down the floor and came up empty," South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. "We faced a team that was terrific on every aspect of the game. You have to give them credit."
We lost a basketball game, to a very good team that beat us. We have incredible student athletes who represent our university and the Tampa Bay community academically and athletically in an incredible manner.Think about that before you criticize them about this loss.
— Jose Fernandez (@CoachJFernandez) March 18, 2018
Buffalo: The Bulls were the first team from the Mid-American Conference since 1996 to earn an at-large berth. They certainly delivered on the faith that the selection committee showed in them.
South Florida: Visit Tallahassee might want to hold off contacting coach Jose Fernandez. This is the second straight year the Bulls have made the four-hour trip north to Florida's capital and dropped a first-round game.
It is the first time in an NCAA Tournament game that a Mid-American Conference team has gone over 100 points. It is also the first time since a 103-57 victory over Wofford on Dec. 21, 1995, that Buffalo has scored more than 100 points. This is the 17th game this season where the Bulls have scored 80 or more points, which is a program record. They are 15-2 when reaching that mark.
Laksa set South Florida's school record for points by a junior. She finishes the season points, which betters Courtney Williams' 710 in 2014-15.