WBB sputters in aftermath of Austria ACL injury

By: Steve Miller – Staff Writer

A solid start to the new season has quickly gone sour for the Dayton women’s basketball team, who has dropped its last two contests to Purdue and Gonzaga, putting the Flyers at 6-3 on the year.

The losses came in the midst of a season-ending injury to senior guard Kelley Austria, which occurred in the second quarter of the Flyers’ 83-57 win Dec. 2 at Toledo. Austria tore her left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and will undergo surgery early in 2016.

Without her, the Flyers’ offense has gone cold. They shot 34 percent from the floor in the 61-58 loss at Purdue Dec 6.

Friday at UD Arena, the Flyers shot 35 percent in a 57-47 loss to Gonzaga. It was the first time since December 2012 that the Flyers had failed to accumulate 50 points in a game.

“We’re broken right now … we’re missing something,” head coach Jim Jabir said after Friday’s loss. “We’re not efficient offensively … We’re not sharing it. We’re not moving the basketball.”

We’re broken right now…we’re missing something. We’re not efficient offensively…We’re not sharing it. We’re not moving the basketball.

Field goal percentages are easy to point to after losses. The Flyers have shot under 40 percent from the floor in each of their three losses this year, and over 40 percent in all of their six victories. Four of those six wins saw Dayton put up 80 points, and 79 in another.

Defensively, UD has held strong—but to little avail with the poor offensive production.

“Our defense, percentage-wise has been pretty good,” Jabir said. “Purdue we held to 33 [percent shooting], [Gonzaga] we held to 34. And we still didn’t defend great.”

Sophomore point guard Jenna Burdette put up a career-high 22 points against Gonzaga, a bright spot for the Flyers, but there was little help around her. Senior center Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova was held pointless and senior guard Amber Deane finished the game with just one point.

“Jenna had 22 points on eight of 11 shooting … but she had eight turnovers,” Jabir said. “And that points out, to me, not that she’s a bad player but that she’s trying to do too much because we’re not doing enough to help her.”
Burdette, who started on last year’s Elite Eight team as a freshman, has already seen her offensive role increase this season. But there will be even more scoring responsibility on her now with Austria out.

“I feel fine,” Burdette said postgame Friday about her increased role, “but I need to make better decisions.”

“I think it’s just taking care of the ball,” she continued. “We try to push it every time—which, I think we did a decent job of doing—but once we don’t have it, just pull it back out and get settled down.”

Junior center Saicha Grant-Allen recorded a double-double in Friday’s defeat with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

“Saicha played her heart out, and I think played more minutes than she usually does,” Jabir said. “But she needs more help too.”

Burdette and Grant-Allen each played 36 minutes against Gonzaga, more than any other player on either team that night.

There will clearly be a learning curve as the team adjusts to game plans that don’t include Austria. But there’s also a sense of urgency to right the ship and get the team back in the win column.

“There is a new rotation, kids that hadn’t been playing are playing now,” Jabir said.

Two freshmen, guard Lauren Cannatelli and forward Maddy Dennis, started against Gonzaga but were stifled all game. Dennis finished with two points and Cannatelli didn’t score.

“Kelley was kind of a glue kid, she did a lot of little things that we’re missing right now,” Jabir concluded about his senior leader.

As for Austria, she will undergo surgery in January and will be able to redshirt this year because she played in under 30 percent of the team’s games, per NCAA rules.

“Those are positives,” Jabir said in a press conference this week. “Once she has surgery, she’ll go through all the protocols. She’s unfortunately well aware what they are, and she’ll rehab and get strong and come back.”

He was referring to Austria’s sophomore season when she underwent ACL surgery the first time, on her right knee.
“A lot of what she did for us [was] intangible,” Jabir said. “Defending the ball, getting off the ball and stealing passes, her ability to shoot the ball, her ability to handle it. She did a lot of stuff that you don’t even see on the stats but were really important to us.”

Now, the team has to learn who can step in and take on Austria’s on-court duties. While that’s certainly not an overnight fix, Jabir and the team want to return to their winning ways as soon as possible.

The Flyers return to the court Dec. 20 to take on Princeton at UD Arena. Then, they conclude non-conference play Dec. 30 at Wisconsin-Green Bay before the Atlantic 10 season starts Jan. 3.

Photo of WBB fighting what would be a loss to Gonzaga by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.