By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
Don’t tell the Dayton women’s basketball team that they can’t win. Because if they’ve learned anything in the last three years, it’s that even if David cannot beat Goliath, he can at least learn from him.
Take their last two NCAA Tournament appearances.
In 2015, the Flyers knocked off Iowa State, Kentucky and Louisville on their way to an Elite Eight loss to Connecticut that had the Huskies sweating at halftime.
This year, the Flyers were seeded 12th and lost a first round contest to Tennessee, the SEC’s longtime stronghold.
With three wins and two losses in their last two tournaments, the Flyers are by no means on the forefront of national competition. But what’s worth noting is that those two losses were to the two most successful programs in the history of college basketball. And the Flyers do not shy away from tall tasks.
“The common factor is just the belief and the confidence,” head coach Shauna Green said in an interview with Flyer News, comparing 2015 to 2017. “We were playing so well this year in the A-10 tournament going into the NCAA Tournament, and we had such a strong confidence about us and this togetherness about us. And I really felt we could beat anyone that we played.”
According to Green, if it weren’t for some sour luck, an upset may have been in order this year.
“Unfortunately against Tennessee, we didn’t shoot it well,” she said. “We played hard, we played it well, but shots that we normally hit weren’t falling…[If] we hit some shots I think we’re right in that game. We [lost] by nine and we shot 20 percent from three.”
The mentality was the same in 2015, despite vastly different talent on the court.
That year, Green served as an assistant coach under Jim Jabir, and mentored two of UD’s best all-time players, Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott, to an Elite Eight run.
“That was [a] different team, and a different circumstance,” said Green. “You had Hoover, Ally, they were seniors, and they had made the tournament the years before and had either won one game, or we got beat. So that was their fourth go-around, and they really wanted to get out of that first weekend.”
Junior point guard Jenna Burdette was a freshman on the Elite Eight squad, and compared her personal mentality to 2015.
“That year, there was always just this feeling that we knew we were going to win. And the ball was just going our way,” Burdette said. “This year we did take it one step at a time, which was good, and we’re going to continue to do it like that.”
While there were different circumstances surrounding those two seasons, there was a similar will to win that had to be instilled. This year, that happened after the team stumbled out of the gate with a 3-6 start to the season.
“We had a turning point right around Christmas break,” said Burdette. “We [basically] lit a fire under ourselves. We were just so excited to make it to the tournament.”
That fire fueled the team to an 11-game win streak and conference championships in both the regular season and A-10 tournament.
Conference championships will always be a goal for UD, but they do not want the success to culminate at that level. Just like in 2015, deep tournament runs are coveted.
Despite their two most recent losses, the experience of playing against the nation’s top talent is invaluable to the Flyers.
“It helps us not to look at the name of the school and more just that it’s just a basketball game,” said Burdette. “My freshman year I was obviously super nervous. I was nervous this year too, but I knew what to expect. You don’t go in there star struck because of their head coach’s name or something.”
To this end, before he resigned, Jabir built one of the toughest non-conference schedules UD had ever seen. This year, they played the likes of UConn, the nation’s top-seeded team, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Wisconsin in the regular season.
“I think that’s what the program’s developed into, and I think people respect us in that regard,” Green said. “Our non-conference schedule has prepared us. When you beat Texas A&M and you’re playing those guys, you have opportunities to get big wins. I think that our kids are used to it now and it’s not like ‘oh, we’re playing Tennessee’ or ‘oh, we’re playing Texas A&M,’ that’s what they’re used to. And I think that’s developed over time, so I don’t think they get rattled with that.”
Photo courtesy of Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics