By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer
The Dayton women’s basketball season came to an abrupt and disappointing end after the Flyers lost 66-57 to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday.
The 22-9 Flyers, a 12-seed in the tournament, were considered to be underdogs to the 19-11 5-seed Lady Volunteers. However, Dayton entered the tournament with high hopes after being crowned Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament champions. Tennessee entered the tournament coming off a rollercoaster of a season, beating four teams ranked in the top ten in the nation, but losing to eight unranked teams, finishing fifth in the SEC regular season standings, and losing in their first game of the SEC tournament.
For a game that seemed largely a tossup before tip off, it proved to be anything but. The Lady Vols came out of the gates flying, while the Flyers seemed unable to take off, starting the game shooting just one-for-16. They also struggled on the defensive end covering the 6-foot-6 Mercedes Russell and the 6-foot-3 Shaquilla Nunn, who each scored 14 points in the game.
Saicha Grant-Allen, Dayton’s senior center, commented about defending the likes of Russell and Nunn saying, “We definitely don’t have a 6’6” girl in the A-10, so it was a bit of a drastic change in terms of size.”
Head coach Shauna Green added, “I think you have to give some credit to Tennessee. We haven’t seen a 6’6” kid in a couple months since we faced Texas A&M.”
Despite their slow start, Dayton was able to pull the score level at 29 in the second quarter, and even briefly took the lead in the third quarter. But in the end, UD was simply outplayed down the stretch by the Lady Vols, led by Diamond DeShields, who scored 24 points in the game and is projected to be a top five pick in the WNBA draft.
Shauna Green said about DeShields, “She’s a great player, and great players make plays. I thought our defense was good. I thought we contested the way we wanted to contest it. She rises up high, and she made plays.”
Making plays, and shots, is exactly what this game came down to. Stats like total rebounds, assists, and turnovers were relatively even between the two teams. But Tennessee shot over 42 percent from the field and made 22 free throws, while Dayton shot just 32 percent from the field and made only 11 free throws.
Despite a tough loss to a strong Tennessee team, Green and the Flyers exceeded expectations for the year in total.
After being an assistant coach for the Flyers for three years and then going to Northwestern for one year, Green returned to Dayton and took over the position of head coach after Dayton legend Jim Jabir stepped down from the job for personal reasons.
For her first ever season as a Division I head coach, Green did an excellent job with a Dayton program that was in a slight state of shock when Jabir decided to give up his position. In his 13 years in charge of Dayton, Jabir had built up a certain culture around the basketball program and Green was faced with the tough task of honoring Jabir’s legacy while instilling her own philosophy on the team.
Although difficult at first, Green seemed to settle into her new role, and the players, led by the senior class, adapted to Green’s style. Green should be given a lot of credit for Dayton’s success this season given the situation, but she insists on giving the credit to the team’s seniors.
“You look at Kelley [Austria], who has been here five years and been to three NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight, won two conference championships, an A-10 Tournament championship. I could go on and on. Defensive Player of the Year. She’s done so much here and been a rock for us. She’s done it on both ends of the floor. Played 40 minutes a game a lot of times and just will run through a wall for you. What she’s done for this program is–you can’t even put into wording. Saicha, the same thing. She’s played a lot of minutes in big moments. Macioce hasn’t played as much, but so important to our team, every single day is there and works. And Andi, again, big-time moments through a lot of different games,” Green said.
The graduating senior class has been integral to Dayton’s success over the past few years, but the future looks bright as well. Junior Jenna Burdette, redshirt junior Alex Harris, and freshman Jayla Scaife are three huge talents that will be on the Dayton roster next year. Not to mention Green is one of the brightest young talents in the realm of collegiate coaching, and can only improve from a very impressive first season in charge. The Flyers will go into the offseason knowing they have a lot of work to do, but their heads will be held high after a successful season.
Photo courtesy of Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics