DEFENSE ESSENTIAL PART OF WINNING STREAK
Freshman center Saicha Grant-Allen (55) blocks a shot during a game against George Washington University, Jan. 16, at UD Arena. The University of Dayton women’s basketball team won 90-69, and is now 4-0 in Atlantic 10 Conference play and 11-4 overall this season. (San Kumar/Staff Photographer)
By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor
When the University of Dayton women’s basketball team began the season 2-4, perhaps the rest of the Atlantic 10 Conference watched and began to wonder if the reigning champions had lost the ability to dominate league play.
Before the team entered A-10 play on Wednesday, Jan. 8, a blowout loss to Vanderbilt University on Nov. 24, sandwiched between two heartbreaking, last-second losses to Michigan State University and Central Michigan University, produced a three-game losing streak and dropped the Flyers out of the national ranking.
In the midst of the losing streak, head coach Jim Jabir vowed to continue to hold his team to a championship-caliber standard. He understood the team needed to improve defensively, cut down on turnovers and increase production from the team’s point guards to even begin to approach that level.
Now, Dayton has another kind of streak going; one that has sent a new message to their conference opponents.
The Flyers will not fade and again are a force to be reckoned with in the A-10.
After a gutsy 73-64 victory over Fordham University Sunday, Jan. 19, at UD Arena, the Flyers have rattled off nine straight wins, including a perfect 4-0 record to begin their conference schedule.
Feb. 11, 2012 in a 56-55 decision against St. Bonaventure University was Dayton’s last regular season conference loss.
The team has won 22 straight A-10 games and once again finds itself in a familiar place atop the league standings.
Sitting at 4-0, UD is the only team without a conference loss on the season.
Sophomore guard Amber Deane said the winning streak has helped the team build its confidence after a rough start, but UD’s mindset remains the same.
“We know that we need to build after each win,” Deane said. “There’s always something to work on, something to build off of. We go in and we watch film and we just keep on getting better.”
Deane’s latest performances has allowed Dayton to keep its current streak alive and earned herself A-10 player of the week honors.
On Jan. 16, she scored 23 points in a 90-69 victory over George Washington University, who also entered the game undefeated in league play. With a team-high 15 points against Fordham, Deane helped lead the Flyers to a comeback victory after the team struggled on the offensive side of the ball.
Deane’s effect on the Fordham game stemmed not only from her offensive output, but from her defensive intensity exhibited in the second half. She noticeably was flying after lose balls, and her teammates responded with a successful comeback win against a gritty opponent who made every effort to slow down Dayton’s high-powered scoring attack.
The Flyers now have the sixth highest scoring offense in the country with 87.1 points per game.
On a night where the scoring just wasn’t there, Jabir said he knew the defense would have to make up some of the slack.
“We can’t be in the situation where shots aren’t falling and the defense lags as well,” Jabir said.
The game was a welcome defensive performance for Dayton, who still has struggled on the defensive end.
As of Monday, Jan. 20, the team is ranked 320th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 76.6 points per game on the season.
Junior forward Ally Malott credited the team’s rebounding and defensive efforts with the victory against Fordham, however, where earlier in the season the offense had to score 80-plus points just to keep the team in the game.
“They did a really good job of slowing us down and keeping us out of our transition game,” Malott said. “We had to find another way to win. I think we showed a lot of heart tonight.”
Through four conference games, the Flyers have surrendered 64 points per game, well below its season average of 76.6.
The team has also improved on its assist-to-turnover ratio during conference play, sitting at 1.37 where they averaged 1.02 during the season as a whole.
The difference has largely been due to junior guard Kelly Austria’s 3.75 assist-to-turnover margin during conference play, who has assumed a large portion of point guard duties for Jabir.
Malott said she understands that as the team dives further into A-10 play, finding other ways to win besides relying on their high-octane offense could prove critical, especially in a conference where underestimating an opponent can lead to damaging results.
Deane echoed her teammate’s analysis of the conference opponents yet to come.
“We play in a very, very tough conference,” Deane said. “We know every game is going to be a grind.”