By: Steve Miller – Asst. Sports Editor
After a memorable season and a run to the Elite Eight, the University of Dayton women’s basketball ranked 17th in the final USA Today NCAA Coaches Poll. Knocking off the University of Kentucky and the University of Lousiville, Dayton advanced to its first ever Elite Eight.
There, they were defeated by the University of Connecticut Huskies, but not before grabbing the nation’s attention.
“They just went into the game with an attitude of ‘we have nothing to lose,’” Dayton head coach Jim Jabir said in an exclusive Flyer News interview. “They were worried about us because we always had five kids on the floor that could score. That created problems for them because they watched us play against Louisville and [against] Kentucky. We demanded their respect.”
Senior forward Ally Malott was the leading scorer for UD in the loss to UConn. She explained how the team mentally prepared for the Huskies. “You can’t let the name on their jersey affect what you do because I think a lot of teams are so intimidated that they’re already behind before they start the game,” she said. “We went into it thinking that we have absolutely nothing to lose, that it’s already been a great season, and that we just have to go out and have fun and play basketball.”
Malott and the Flyers did just that in the first half. She knocked down four 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes and Dayton went into the locker room with a 44-43 advantage. UD lost steam, though, and eventually fell by 21 to UConn, who later defeated the University of Maryland in the Final Four and the University of Notre Dame in the championship game—Connecticut’s third consecutive national title.
Jabir was pleased with the performance against UConn, although he is still winless against Geno Auriemma, the Huskies head coach.
“Coach Auriemma told me that we were the best team [UConn] had seen in five years, and he’s not the guy to make stuff up or throw stuff around,” Jabir said, “He said that our team reminded him of his first Final Four team. There were similarities. Our style, everyone could score, that we weren’t intimidated.”
The main disappointment of 2015 for the Flyers was the loss to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 Championship. Dayton was predicted in the preseason polls to win the A-10; however, they were defeated by George Washington three times over the course of the season including the conference championship game.
“I think we used the A-10 championship as motivation to not let that define how our season ended,” Malott said. “When you look back at our season [and George Washington’s] I think we had the better year.”
Despite winning the conference, George Washington was upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament by 11-seed Gonzaga University. George Washington finished the season ranked 25th in the nation.
Senior guard Andrea Hoover also commented on the sour taste of the A-10 loss. “I think making it to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight is something that not every player can do in the four years that they’re [in college], so that overshadowed losing in the A-10 tournament,” she said. “Not that it doesn’t still sting, though. [Winning the A-10] is something that will be a top priority for the guys next year.”
Next year, and the seasons beyond, will be different for the Flyers without Malott and Hoover, who were the two leading scorers this year. But Jabir and the team are confident that the current and upcoming players will embrace their new roles and hit the ground running in the fall.
“This run was fueled a whole lot by the junior class, and Jenna Burdette who’s a freshman. Those guys were integral parts of our success, and they’ll be back,” Jabir said. “Basketball is really an intricate dance. If you have somebody like Ally, it’s a lot easier to be [junior center] Jodie [Cornelie-Sigmundova] because all the attention is on Ally. And now when Ally’s gone, how does Jodie fit into that new role?”
“We had a really balanced team this year, and the juniors did a lot of the scoring, especially towards the end.” Hoover said. “We have a lot of good freshmen coming in that can help.”
Junior guards Amber Deane and Kelley Austria, along with Cornelie-Sigmundova will be the leaders of this team next season, and will look to carry on Dayton’s success. Having appeared in six consecutive NCAA tournaments, the program doesn’t want success to end with Hoover and Malott’s graduations.
“We have to find new roles and new ways to play,” Jabir said. “There’s a relearning process, and we’ll see how people fit into new roles.”