Buffalo’s magical season ends in Sweet 16, head coach Felisha Legette-Jack reflects on the season

Buffalo’s magical season came to an end in the Sweet 16 as the Bulls fell to defending national champion South Carolina 79-63 Saturday afternoon. The Bulls finished with a program-record 29 wins (and just six losses). The team advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history.

Head coach Felisha Legette-Jack and student-athletes Stephanie Reid and Cierra Dillard talked to the media postgame. Legette -Jack made a few poignant points about the representation of women of color in coaching after a question from Howard Megdal of High-Post Hoops and the hard road from getting fired to rebuilding a program that can make a deep NCAA run. The full transcript of the postgame presser is below.

Coach Felisha Legette-Jack (opening statement): I’m so thrilled to go on this journey with these young ladies. What fight, what character. They were so down and they just kept coming and believing and leaving it out there. Just really over the moon when it comes to these young ladies. You know, we certainly feel the pain of losing. You can see it in our eyes. But what’s going to be remembered is the journey to this point, the sisterhood, the Fox Hall, the bus breaking down, taking Ubers to the game, and we found a way; my husband had to step in and then he had to go to work and we were telling him to quit his job.

So much laughter, the silly songs, so many things we did, and right now, these competitive young ladies, they are going to struggle for the next day or 24 hours. But when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be just so proud.

Q. Coming into this game, you talked about seeing how you measured up. What did you learn about yourselves? What did you learn about this group today and this game?
Cierra Dillard: I learned we never stopped fighting. We always have the never die attitude and we buy into what Coach says and that’s what got us here and what got us here to the Sweet 16. I believe we gave South Carolina a fight and I believe we gave the audience a good game.

Q. Coming from Australia all the way to Buffalo to see this thing through, I’m sure it hurts now but where is your level of pride and how proud are you of this program?
Stephanie Reid: Honestly, I couldn’t be any more grateful to call Buffalo my second home. I’ve had the best three and a half years here. I’m so grateful to Coach Jack. I’m so grateful to all the staff, past and present, that have been there, that have pushed me to where I am today.

You know, it’s never fun to go out on a loss but only one team gets to do that at the end, to finish on a win. It’s hard, and it’s hard to know that I’ll never put this jersey on again and it’s hard it know that when I untie my shoelaces, it will be the last time as a Buffalo. But I’ll always be part of this program and I’ll never let them play a game that I’m not watching, if I can be there or watch it from Australia or wherever I am. It was just Buffalo, is the best second home that anyone could ask for. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go there, to have Coach Jack transform me as a player, but also a certain. This is the most phenomenal woman that I have ever met, and I guarantee you, that’s not a lie. She’s more than just a basketball coach. She is — she is a life coach and a phenomenal woman. She wants us all to be phenomenal women, and you know, one day, when I grow up, I hope to be just like Coach Jack, as strong and amazing as she is, because she completely transformed my life in the last three and a half years, not just my basketball skills, but my whole life, and I’m forever grateful for that (tearing)?

You’ve carried this team through a lot of wins. Did the reality of their size, did that just catch up?
Stephanie Reid: I mean, they they were quite large, and when they played three bigs, it gave us a big challenge on the rebounding. That was a good move.

But you know, I think that they are going to remember us, and that’s what we wanted to do. You know, if we — win or lose, we want them to remember who we are and to know that they played Buffalo for 40 minutes and we didn’t stop fighting at any point. We fought all the way to the end to the last second and that’s what we take pride in.

Yeah, they won the rebound battle. Yeah, they were huge. But we have big hearts and we went out proud of who we are.

Q. What’s it been like to be part of this journey this year to get to this point? What does your run this year say about the team and the future?
Cierra Dillard: The future’s bright. Coach has done an unbelievable job with this program, in six years to go from what it was to what it’s now, and the hard work of not just us but but the work that the other coaches and the other players — to see it transform and see it in their eyes and how happy they are and the work they put in helped build the foundation of Buffalo and see what they are doing now is unbelievable and it’s great to be a part of.

Coming from UMass and coming from one of I think, basketball, personally, one of my lowest points in my career to be here on this stage, to be with my family and my sisters, it’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. People dream about this when they are little, to play on an NCAA basketball court and to play in an NCAA Tournament.

I’m a competitor, yes, but to think about that, we are 29-6, and we made it to the Sweet 16 and we put Buffalo Buffalo in people’s mouths, the name in people’s mouths, it’s great to see and witness, let alone be a part of.

Q. When you think about what you’ve seen, the Atlantic 10, to be able to go in and at times dominate that conference, do you think we’ve gotten to a point where mid-majors have a seat at the table when it comes to who ends up going far in the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis?
Cierra Dillard: Oh, without a doubt, I think mid-majors have a part in any NCAA Tournament or any NCAA-based, type thing, whatever.

In college, it’s the hard work that the coaches put in, the hard work that the players put in. We get used to pour five coaches, mid-major schools — it’s just college, it’s just players and coaches who are willing to put in the hard work and who are willing to put in the heart to get to where they need to be. We shouldn’t be like, oh, they are a mid-major and not give them everything they deserve. We deserve everything we’ve worked hard for in the season to be here at this stage. We’ve put in a lot of success to be here, too. We beat some unbelievable teams to get here and we played a great game tonight.

I believe, yes, mid-majors should get everything they deserve and everything they work hard for.

Q. Could you talk about the specific challenges, having played against Wilson, the challenges she presents?
Cierra Dillard: Well, she’s 6-5. I mean, she’s an unbelievable player. I think our posts have their hands full but they have done a great job of, you know, helping her get difficult shots.

I think we lost the rebounding as a team, and it’s not any one player or any two players. But you know, she is — I don’t know how to explain it, but she’s just a great player. Like she’s an amazing post player who can finish and who can dish and everything, and I give all the props to her. She’s the reason why they are national champions last year, and Dawn Staley has done an unbelievable job with that program. She’s an amazing coach and she have a great group of girls who are really, really good at basketball.

But, you know, I think that Buffalo did an unbelievable job of staying with them and we gave it all. And Coach, as long as she knows that we gave it our all, I think it will make her proud that we gave it our all.

Stephanie Reid: She has contagious energy and I think that’s something she brings to her teammates. Everything Cierra said is true. She’s a great, great player and she’s got a very bright future ahead of her and Dawn Staley has done a fantastic job with that program. But something she brought was her energy and she gave that to all of her teammates and she puts her teammates in success. That’s pretty hard it do from a big. You don’t see that very often, so I give her credit for that, too.

Q. (Off mic).
Stephanie Reid: I don’t know, because the guards usually have to have the leadership role on the court, but you can see, she possesses a leadership role on that team, and you know, she definitely has energy that’s so contagious to her teammates that it puts them in a position to be successful?

Q. You guys shot a lot better in the early two games, particularly, the USF game. It appeared that you were getting open. Is the misses, is that how it goes or is it because of how big and quick they were?
Cierra Dillard: Well, it’s basketball. You can’t make everything. But I think, you know, just getting loose in the game; it’s a different stage and Coach does a great job of telling us, just stay loose and you getting open shots and you take the shots you’re supposed to take. We worked on them all season.

It’s no time to question, oh, am I rushing or am I not. We’re going to take the shots we’ve been making all season and we’re going to miss and make, and that goes with the game of basketball, I think. That’s just how it goes.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the shooting percentage and were those the shots that you wanted to get and they just weren’t falling? Were they making you rush shots? Offensively wasn’t as good as before.
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: It’s a different stage, different time. One thing about shooting, it’s going to come and go. I thought our defense was great. I thought we really — they turned the ball over 26 times, the seventh-best team in the country.

So our shooting, with the shots we usually take, they don’t go in all the time. It’s unfortunate that on this stage they didn’t. But you guys didn’t see how great Stephanie really is, because she really tried to make it happen for us. Those shots that A.J. takes, she usually makes. It’s definitely one of those things.

Q. How much do you think you frustrated them? Because they didn’t look very comfortable.
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: We hit those wide open shots. If we would have just frustrated them, we would have won. We really had them right where we wanted them to be. You know, there’s a plan for all of us. My thing that I tell my players: Just don’t get in your own way. We really didn’t get in our own way. We had the best shots. We had our best opportunity. We turned them over. We got frustrated down low. We stayed — we stuck our chest out and we just kept coming.

It was very important for the world to see Buffalo, chest up, rise up, stand back up when they knocked us down. We were over matched. They are a very good team. But like I said yesterday, we just want to be on the court with the very great teams like South Carolina and Florida State and South Florida to find out where we measure up. I think we measure up real nicely. I think our future’s bright.

Q. As far as I can tell — with Summer, you played even with them. How much of a factor was her foul trouble in this game?
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: That’s the most frustrating thing for me, to see the fouls she received. Had she been on that court, she made a difference. She made an absolute difference. And I just don’t know, I need to watch the film because I’ve been wrong before, but a couple of those fouls, just changed the trajectory of what we were doing, whether we were making the shots or missing the shots, but she was the one getting touches and tips and keeping the ball alive for us.

I just felt, you know, you almost feel like your player was being picked on a little bit. She was so frustrated. She was so hurt. Her playing 23 minutes was just — it’s like playing A’Ja 23 minutes. She’s ours on the inside and I just think that the more we’re on this stage, the more people are going to know who we are and therefore, we’re going to get — maybe not right now, but I just thought Summer was great. She’s only a sophomore, guys. She’s going to be a fantastic local player from Buffalo and I’m so, so proud of her.

Q. This was the most double-digit seeds to advance since 2000. You put together a team in a variety of ways, transfers and overseas and other players locally like you were just saying but how much deeper do you think the talent pool is than even ten, 15 years ago, and do you think this is the new normal?
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: It’s my only normal I know. I don’t consider myself a mid-major coach or a major coach. I’ve been on every stage. I’ve worked with USA Basketball and won Gold Medals. I look at talent and character first and I look at academic standards and then I say: Let’s coach the team, the kids, where they are.

I just think that Loyola is making the same statement and the only thing I saw with somebody like them being 11-seed and doing what they are doing, and why not us, too, why not now.

I just don’t know if it’s the new normal or not. I think that when I go into some of these homes, I don’t look at, Dawn Staley’s been in this house, so I can’t go. I don’t know how to think like that. And maybe I’m naïve, but I think kids want to play for people and they want to go to a school to learn and they want to be — they don’t talk to the buildings; they talk to the assistant coaches.

We are got a fantastic staff and organization and I think I’m a pretty cool lady myself. I think we get players based on who we are, and then we tell them about our unbelievable academic standards at Buffalo, it’s a win/win. I think the next players on this stage, they see the people that don’t pick them at that major level, we’re a destination now, too.

Q. I was wondering did what South Carolina was doing in the paint catch up in the end? In your opinion, what was the reason why they ended up pulling away?
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: You tell me what the problem was and you ask me my opinion — I don’t agree. I respectfully don’t agree. We were down about I five, the ball goes to Cassie and the ball slips out of her hand. Nobody defended her. Nobody blocked her shot. Nobody stopped her. It slipped.

We had another opportunity to score and had a sustained run, and I thought we were in great shape. I thought that we could have ran but we needed to reward it. We needed to finish on that shot because that drains you when you work that hard and you get that ball six feet from the basket and it slips from your hard.

No disrespect to them, but we don’t think that because you’re bigger you’re necessarily better, and there are times you’re going to be rewarded for the success because of your size. I stayed with them for 40 minutes — and they have done that. Were they great inside? 52-30, yeah, they got us there. Could we have still won? I think so. I have to think so because I’m the head coach of the Buffalo team.

Q. That run you were talking about, you were down 55-50, you had a turnover, a missed shot and then a blocked shot and they didn’t score in that sequence, either. If something different would have happened during that little run, could the game have been different?
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: You know, you only want to hope, maybe. But I just think that there’s a plan for us all. I think that, you know, we’ve left it all out. We could not have done one extra thing. These young ladies fought. We were down by two with 1.1 second at Columbia University. We have a play, we’re going to layup, we win.

We lost Stephanie against Nebraska on the road at a neutral site, my freshman guard steps in and we beat them. We had so many wonderful moments as a team and as an organization. We fought hard. We lose an AD, we get a new AD. We got no managers. We’ve got a lot of reasons why this team should have stopped and we would have had an excuse.

We have not had an excuse since the beginning and we will not have an excuse at the end. The better team won. South Carolina beat us, whether we had runs or mishaps or what have you. How they beat us, that’s for everybody to argue. They were the better team today. I wish them the best of luck in the next game, but I cannot be more proud of the resiliency of this group that we call the University at Buffalo Women’s Basketball Program.

Q. Just to what we were speaking about earlier, because, like you said, there aren’t just these huge dividing lines between majors and mid-majors any more and there are more opportunities for success, do you see an opportunity for women of color to get more leadership opportunities, and do you view this as a way to help bring to light the fact that there aren’t enough women of color getting the leadership positions?
Coach Felisha Legette-Jack: Wow. I have some really amazing colleagues that look like me. I have so many friends that had an opportunity and they lose their opportunities and never be coming back up at all.

It took an African American woman to notice me when I lost my job at Indiana. Had she not noticed me, Danny White would have never known about me; and because she spoke to him and I was able to present myself to him, I was able to get this opportunity to bring this — from where it was to where it is now. I hope my colleagues don’t get frustrated and never comeback. There’s a Gillette laws on this staff from South Carolina and we used to go up against each other when she was at Illinois; a Cincinnati coach who played at a high school gym and at the end was asked to leave.

I’m saddened by it. I understand the problem. I know that the majority of women basketball players look like me. I think that these young women, if we really care about them as people, that they will have role models that look like them. Because they are going to play four years for whomever, and then they get an opportunity to go in this world, and they are not going to find anybody that looked like them, and they are going to have to figure out how to navigate at a different level.

I hope that if these coaches that see me who resurged themselves or herself into another opportunity and try to make the most of it, I hope they get encouraged and understand: The fight isn’t going to easy. It’s necessary. It’s necessary not just for you and your sadness and you and your fire and you and your woe-is-me.

The fight is for the next young lady that needs a person who looks like her to rise above and to be coached up and create a foundation so that she can become the coo, the CFO of something very big. It’s important that they stay in the race and keep fighting. We see them. You’re out there. Keep fighting. Go forward. Thank you for that question.

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