Jabir’s Flyers Eclipse Expectations
By: Steven Miller – Asst. Sports Editor
Andrea Hoover received the ball and dribbled into Dayton’s offensive zone. She took one step toward the basket, but then, with a seeming realization of the journey she had completed and the immense talent she had, Hoover pulled back and knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Flyers the lead over the University of Connecticut—the best women’s basketball program in the country.
It was here that I realized it didn’t matter if Dayton beat UConn. These sorts of upsets simply don’t happen in the incredibly top-loaded women’s college basketball tournament. Twice in the past four seasons, all No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. This year, the Elite Eight featured four No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds, and the seven-seed Flyers. UD did not need to win to prove anything. They had made their point.
And to put any doubt to rest, the Flyers reeled off 44 points in the first half against the best team in the country, matching the Huskies elite shooters drive for drive.
Yes, each faithful Flyer was bummed that UD did not complete the upset of the century. But head coach Jim Jabir and the entire women’s basketball team had capped off the best season in program history with an impressive showing.
I can’t help but wonder what the Elite Eight game might have been, however, on level ground. Between the zebras with whistles calling the most nitpicky fouls against the Flyers, and the giraffe-like Breanna Stewart roaming free and dominating the boards, the whole safari was working against Dayton. The Flyers needed everything to go right to get a win. And for the first half, everything did go right. But undoubtedly, those officials in black and white expected the Huskies to cruise to a blow-out win, and must have decided to aid Connecticut in doing just that.
Still, it wasn’t a blowout win. UD lost by 21 and Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott got the senior send-off they deserved. Malott was lights-out from the floor in the first half, knocking down all four 3-pointers she attempted. And in the second half, when Hoover finally checked back in after collecting four fouls, she proved to truly be among the nation’s best players by making the Huskies look foolish on a pair of offensive drives to the basket.
While the Flyers season ended in Albany, New York, seniors Hoover, Malott, and Tiffany Johnson finished their careers in a better spot than anyone had envisioned. Meanwhile, this program is in a wildly improved spot than it was just six years ago.
The Dayton women appeared in the NCAA tournament for the first time in the program’s history in 2010. Since then, Jabir has taken his team to six consecutive tournaments, including this season’s thrilling Elite Eight run.
The Flyers had not advanced past the second round before this season.
The Sweet Sixteen was the goal all year long. That goal appeared conceivable as the Flyers were chosen unanimously in a pre-season coaches poll to win the Atlantic 10 Conference. To the tune of three losses to George Washington, UD failed to do that. However at this point, a loss in the A-10 Championship seems like a century ago.
Since that third loss to George Washington, UD reeled off a trio of NCAA tournament victories, including over two-seed University of Kentucky (on it’s home court, nonetheless), and over three-seed University of Louisville in the Sweet Sixteen.
It was pure will to win that got them there. And it was sheer confidence that let them play alongside Connecticut for much of the regional final game.
If you talk to anyone in this program—players, coaches, fans—they’ll tell you that Hoover and Malott are two of the best players to ever come through UD. Both of them wanted a semblance of closure to their stellar careers, and both carried this team through the tournament.
I’m sure there’s not even a kernel of doubt in this team now that they could beat George Washington if they played one more game. But at the same time, I’m sure none of them even care. Being the nation’s Cinderella Story and shocking the world for half of the regional final are surely worth the price of three defeats in conference play.
Hopefully for Dayton, this is just the beginning of an era of excellence. It will certainly be difficult to replace the two leading scorers who graduate in 2015, but the Flyers have personnel who can rise to the challenge.
Junior guards Kelley Austria and Amber Deane showed flashes of brilliance in the tournament, each knocking down clutch 3-pointers in the waning seconds against Kentucky. Junior center Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova stepped up her physicality and was a blocking machine in the last few games. First-year guard Jenna Burdette started all season long for the Flyers and, with another year of seasoning, she’ll be ready to step up and take on some more of the scoring duties.
Whether this is merely the capstone to a six-year run or if it is just the beginning for UD women’s basketball, 2015 will be a year to remember. A year where expectations were exceeded and two of the finest Flyers to ever take the court achieved what they set out for. And in the words of Jabir after Dayton knocked off the might Kentucky Wildcats, “It’s a great day to be a Flyer.”