This year’s University of Dayton women’s basketball squad has eight freshmen and sophomores comprising its 12-player roster, which makes it the sixth-youngest team in the country.
You would never know that though just by looking at the way the team plays.
Currently one of only four teams left in the country with just one loss this season, Dayton has been ranked in the AP and USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 polls for 14 consecutive weeks, achieving its highest ever rank at No. 14 on Monday, Feb. 18.
Scoring an average of 77.4 points per game this season, while holding teams to just 57, Dayton is on pace to set its best marks in both categories in head coach Jim Jabir’s 10-year tenure at UD.
But after averaging a margin of victory of more than 23 points this season in the team’s first 17 wins, including seven wins by 30 points or more, Dayton has seen itself in tighter games as of late.
In its last five contests, Dayton has won all five but only by eight points on average.
“It’s a grind,” Jabir said. “It’s hard to show up and play at a high level every night … As the year wears on, think about it, our intensity level, our length of our practices. We start in August, and so they’ve already been through two seasons compared to what they’re used to, and I think it does wear on them.”
Dayton lost seven seniors from last season’s squad that won the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championship for the first time in school history, going 23-7 before bowing out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against the University of Arkansas. With those seven seniors went 60 percent of the team’s scoring from last season, as well as a combined total of 439 career starts.
This year’s team was left with only 35 career starts to its name, 27 between sophomore’s guard Andrea Hoover and forward Ally Malott, but has seen its young players step up by providing 65 percent of its points scored.
“We play a lot of people anyway,” Jabir said. “Anybody can play. We’ve always built a program on balance, so it’s not surprising to me that kids step up and do what we brought them here to do.”
Freshman guard Amber Deane has statistically given the team its biggest freshman contribution, averaging 11 points per game, shooting 57.5 percent from the floor to lead all Atlantic 10 players, while starting all 23 contests. Freshman guard Kelley Austria has been among the first players coming off the bench, averaging 6.3 points, but has been one of its best defenders in leading the team with 51 steals, ranking sixth in the Atlantic 10.
Austria said she feels in getting extra shots up in games lately, she’s gaining more confidence throughout each game and in practice as well.
Dayton’s lone loss occurred on the road against Bowling Green State University in a 65-40 defeat on Dec. 30, 2012. Since then, it has reeled off 10 straight wins in A-10 play and, according to Austria, has ignored the idea about trying not to lose another game.
“Coach always says not to feel the pressure,” Austria said. “I think we’re just really good at playing to win.”
Hoover, Dayton’s leading scorer at 11.6 points per game, has been a player, Jabir said, that the team would be going nowhere without this season, bringing toughness and grit when the team needs it.
Hoover said the team expects to get everyone’s best shot when you only have a single loss and a lofty ranking, but it has found a way to play hard while keeping a clear mind.
“This team is so loose, so goofy,” Hoover said. “We joke around before games. We’re just a very loose can of kids. We don’t look at our record. We just look at each game and each possession and go from there.”
The team got one of its toughest tests on Monday when Duquesne University came to UD Arena. Trailing by nine in the second half, Dayton came back with a 13-0 run to take a four-point lead, eventually holding on to win by one. In the run, 11 of the 13 points were scored by a freshman or sophomore.
Jabir said even though it felt like a really long day, he thought the team found a way to play like championship teams do.
“[Duquesne’s] a really good team and a really veteran team and we played like a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Jabir said. “… I hope that it shows them you can do whatever you want when you put your mind to it. It showed if you really pull together, you can get some stuff done and we found a way to win. I’m really grateful of that.”
Jabir has praised the effort of his eight freshmen and sophomores all season on numerous occasions, including after Monday’s win. He said while he gives out an occasional look of displeasure at his team, he has confidence in what it can do the rest of the season.
“We have to hold tight,” Jabir said. “We have four more games and we have to find ways to win four games and win in three in the tournament and then see if we can get out of that first weekend in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the goal, we’re not assuming anything, but that’s the goal.”