By: Daniel Massa – Sports Editor
The Dayton women’s basketball team defeated Yale 81-75 to open the 2015-16 season Friday afternoon at UD Arena in front of a raucous crowd of 10,159.
It was the annual School Day game at the arena, and the team welcomed about 9,000 elementary school students from around the area for a day of basketball-themed education.
In addition to taking in the Flyers’ win, the kids were tasked with answering several different basketball-related math questions posed by recordings of the players on the arena’s video boards.
The main question the Flyers had to answer was how they were going to stop Yale senior guard Nyasha Sarju. Sarju poured in 18 points in the first half on 7-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, and finished the game with a game-high 30 to go along with nine rebounds, also a game high.
“Our defensive execution was very, very poor, and they got a lot of good looks,” Dayton head coach Jim Jabir said after the game. Jabir pointed out the fact that Yale had an entirely new coaching staff, led by first-year head coach Allison Guth. That fact meant the Flyers were basically coming into the game unaware of how the Bulldogs would play, since this was the first game for each team.
“We didn’t have the ability to scout them, so it was new,” Jabir said. “We didn’t adjust or adapt, and once we knew what they were doing, they got a lot of really great looks. They run good stuff.”
It was a back-and-forth affair throughout the entire first half, with the Flyers taking an 18-13 lead after one quarter (the women’s game is now played with four 10-minute quarters). Yale countered with a 27-22 second period, knotting up the halftime score at 40.
The Bulldogs shot just under 54 percent from the field in the half, while the Flyers only converted on 36 percent of their shots. Dayton made up that deficit through extra possessions—the Flyers forced nine Bulldog turnovers—and from the free throw line. The Flyers made seven more free throws (12) in the half than Yale did.
The second half was just as tightly contested, with the Flyers clinging to a 60-58 lead heading into the fourth quarter. They pulled away just enough in the final frame to seal the six-point victory.
Dayton’s improved defense had a lot to do with the win. The Flyers still shot only 41 percent from the field overall, but finished the game with eight steals, and forced 19 total turnovers by the Bulldogs. They also forced Yale to shoot just 33 percent from the field in the second half, a far cry from its first-half numbers.
“The statistics make the point for us,” Jabir said. “They shot 53 percent in the first half and 33 in the second. And that had a lot to do with us. In the second half, as well as the first, we’re responsible.”
Senior guard Amber Deane, a preseason All-Atlantic 10 First Team member, led the Flyers with 19 points, 11 of those coming from the free throw line, where she only missed one attempt. She was 4-of-12 from the field and chipped in with six rebounds.
“I think it’s pretty important [to be efficient from the free throw line],” Deane said. “I wish I could have done both, but I think free throws are all about confidence and technique, and I know that I work on them every day. So, it was definitely comforting to be able to go to the line and knock down free throws but I know I should have made a lot more shots that I made today.”
The Flyers host Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at UD Arena, and Jabir didn’t mince words about the possibilities if Dayton doesn’t improve on Friday’s performance, even though it produced a win.
“We lack a certain toughness right now, and we have to really get this fixed very, very soon,” Jabir said. “Vanderbilt’s coming in from the SEC [Southeastern Conference] on Wednesday, and [that] will be a blowout if [this] happens again.”
Photo of Dayton head women’s basketball coach Jim Jabir by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.