UD women’s basketball won 21 of its last 22 games on the way to an A10 Tournament championship. Photo taken by Keegan Gupta
Sports Staff Writer
A second Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship in four years was earned by the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team, who won the championship game 52-48 over VCU Sunday afternoon at UD Arena.
— Dayton Women's Hoops (@DaytonWBB) March 8, 2020
The championship game was a battle between the top two regular season teams in the A10, and it was a battle of wills as the game – also the last game at UD Arena for the Flyers’ seniors – went down to the wire.
— Flyer News Sports (@FlyerNewsSports) March 8, 2020
“(I was) feeling pure ecstatic (when the final buzzer sounded),” said junior guard Erin Whalen, who shot just 1-9 from the field two games after a 6-7 performance from 3-point range. “Just pure joy, so happy for everyone, especially for our seniors to be able to end it out like this, on a bang. No words really to describe it but just happy.”
A jumper for Rams’ junior forward Sydnei Archie got the scoring started, but after a VCU free throw, Flyers’ senior guard Jayla Scaife tied the game at 3 with 8:27 remaining in the first quarter.
The Flyers grabbed a 7-5 lead at the first media timeout with 4:54 remaining in the first quarter. Despite shooting just 3-9 from the field, the Flyers held the Rams to just 3 shots from the field to hold a 2-point lead through the first five minutes of action.
In the rest of the first quarter, the offense went through redshirt senior guard Shakeela Fowler, who had 4 of Dayton’s 6 points in the last five minutes of the first quarter. With six players on the scoresheet, Dayton increased their lead to four at the end of the first quarter.
By consistently driving into the paint with the ball, Fowler made one driving layup, was fouled on another (after which she made both free throws) and created shots for the offense, who held a 15-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Flyers started slowly in the first five minutes of the second quarter, shooting just 36.4 percent from the field in the game and committing three turnovers through the first five minutes. With the Rams shooting an even 50 percent from the field, the Flyers trailed 22-19 at the second quarter media timeout with 4:56 remaining until halftime.
Scaife took over for the Flyers over the remainder of the half, going to the line three times, but made only 2 of 5. For the Rams, junior guard Taya Robinson led the way with 10 points (4-8 from the field, 2-3 from 3-point range) and was supplemented by junior guard Tera Reed – 5 points – and senior center Danielle Hammond – 4 points and 2 blocks – though neither team could gain a major advantage.
The Flyers shot just 35.7 percent from the field and committed 8 turnovers, and the Rams were marginally better, shooting 39.1 percent with the same number of turnovers. Three shot clock violations within a minute-and-a-half – two by the Rams – showed the offensive struggles for both teams, who went into halftime tied at 25.
The poor shooting for both teams continued, as the only points before the third quarter media timeout came on a Robinson jumper for the Rams and a free throw from Scaife and two more from Whitehead when Hammond picked up her fifth foul to give the Flyers a 28-27 lead with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter.
Rams’ sophomore forward Kseniya Malashka was fouled before the media timeout and made both free throws to give the Rams the lead at 29-28 with the same time left in the quarter.
Whitehead sank a pair of free throws to give the Flyers the lead, and the lead was increased when Scaife found freshman forward Mariah Perez inside for a layup to increase the Flyers’ lead to 32-29 with 3:45 remaining in the game.
VCU redshirt sophomore guard Madison Hattix-Covington made a big 3-pointer to tie the game at 32, and a pair of Reed free throws gave VCU the lead just 17 seconds after Perez’s layup.
The Flyers’ redshirt senior guard Jenna Giacone drove inside for a layup on the Flyers’ next possession to tie the game at 34. Giacone’s defensive rebound then led to a three from Whitehead to give the Flyers the lead (37-34), which they never gave back up, with 1:30 remaining in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged a pair of free throws each as the Flyers took a 39-36 lead into the fourth quarter. On the first possession of the quarter, Fowler made a key play that pushed the Flyers’ lead to five to start the fourth.
A loose ball, last touched by the Flyers, was heading toward midcourt and nearly went over the line for an over-and-back, but Fowler reached out, threw a no-look pass ahead to a teammate. Fowler got the ball back and nailed a jumper to give the Flyers a 41-36 lead with 9:35 remaining in the game.
The Rams responded with a jumper from Hammond, but Whitehead responded for the Flyers with a two layup, the second of which came after a key offensive rebound to give the Flyers a 45-38 lead with 7:07 remaining, forcing the Rams to call a timeout.
VCU fought back with a pair of baskets to cut the Dayton lead to 45-42 at the final media timeout with five minutes remaining. Scaife knocked down a pair of free throws to push the Dayton lead back up to five.
Hammond continued her impressive night from the field (3-5 on field goals) for the Rams with a jumper to cut the deficit to three, and a pair of free throws from Reed cut the Flyers’ lead to just 47-46 with 1:43 remaining in the game.
“(Pulling out late wins) has been a trend and the core and the identity of this team,” Dayton head coach Shauna Green said. “They have so much confidence if it’s tied late, because we’ve just pulled out so many games, and won so many games that were close.”
Just over a minute later, Scaife was fouled and sank both free throws to give the Flyers a 49-46 lead with 38.5 seconds remaining. Reed answered with a layup four seconds later, but those would be the Rams’ last points of the game, as Flyers’ redshirt junior guard Araion Bradshaw knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Flyers a 51-48 lead with 23.2 seconds remaining.
“(When the final buzzer sounded) was crazy,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t want to say I couldn’t believe it, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s something we talked about since I was recruited here the first time, and then when I transferred again, it’s something that we always talked about. There’s pictures all along our locker room of people winning championships, and to be a part of one and actually feel it is amazing.”
VCU could not get their shots to fall, and Scaife was fouled with 13 seconds remaining. Scaife made the second of two free throws, and when the final buzzer sounded and confetti began to rain down, Scaife jumped in the air, yelled in jubilation and threw her fist in celebration.
“I was just proud… of this team, proud of how far we’ve come,” Scaife said. “Just that we could pull it out – VCU’s a tough team, it’s really tough to beat them, so kudos to them for playing as hard as they could and really making us work for it.”
Scaife and the rest of the senior class finish where they started, with another A10 Tournament Championship after winning in 2017, this time winning the championship game on their home court.
“It’s a big deal,” Scaife said. “I think it’s a bigger deal than what people think it is. Winning an A10 championship, let alone two, one on your way in and one on your way out, like I said before, I’m just proud.”
The final score was a 52-48 win for the Flyers, but the more important score was earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament with an automatic bid as A10 Tournament Champions.