By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
Two strong road wins at Wisconsin and Princeton have primed the Dayton women’s basketball team for their toughest opponent on the schedule–the University of Connecticut Huskies. The Flyers will play UConn at the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Conn. on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
UD heads into the game with a 2-1 overall record.
The Huskies, ranked No. 2 in the nation as of Monday’s AP Poll, are four-time reigning NCAA National Champions and have 11 titles in total over their history, with ten since the year 2000. Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma, in his 32nd season at the helm, has the highest winning percentage (.877) of any college basketball coach at any level with a minimum of ten seasons.
The last time UD faced UConn was on March 30, 2015 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament, where the Huskies ended Dayton’s cinderella run with a 91-70 victory.
“Coach Auriemma told me that we were the best team [UConn] had seen in five years, and he’s not the guy to make stuff up or throw stuff around,” Jim Jabir, then the head coach, said following the 2015 season. “He said that our team reminded him of his first Final Four team. There were similarities. Our style, everyone could score, that we weren’t intimidated.”
In that game, Dayton took a lead into halftime. It was the first halftime deficit UConn had faced in two years.
And since then, Connecticut has not lost a game. With their last defeat on Nov. 17 2014, UConn has won 77 straight.
Now Flyers head coach Shauna Green, who was an assistant under Jabir two years ago, leads her team against the toughest opponent they will face in the regular season. She is realistic about the power imbalance between her mid-major program and the most dominant dynasty this century, but remains unfazed.
“We have nothing to lose, I mean the pressure is on them,” Green said in an interview with Flyer News on Monday. “It’s exciting to play against one of the best programs, not even teams, one of the best programs probably of all sports ever. I think it’s a great opportunity, and that’s how we’re viewing it. It’s an opportunity, and we’re just worried about us and what we do.”
“The thing that I know, after playing them before, we’re not gonna be able to completely stop and shut down them offensively,” Green continued. “So the main thing is, really, you have to hit shots. It sounds very simple, but if you don’t shoot at a high, high level, you’re not gonna upset them. And that’s why, two years ago, we were leading by one point at [halftime], because we shot at an extremely high level. We spread out, we drove, and then we attacked them. And that’s really what we have to do tomorrow.”
Sophomore guard Lauren Cannatelli, who won the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award last season, is one of Dayton’s offensive weapons who will need to put up stellar numbers should the Flyers have a realistic shot of knocking off the Huskies.
“We’re just gonna treat them like any other team,” Cannatelli said in a pre-season interview. “They put their jerseys on just like anybody else does. And we’re gonna go in, we’re gonna play the hardest we can, and we’re gonna prepare just like any other team.”
“I think they’re excited, I don’t think they’re nervous,” Green said. “Some of these guys have played them before in that Elite Eight game.”
Guard Kelley Austria, now a redshirt senior, is one of those players. She now has the privilege of leading her teammates once again against the Huskies.
“I’m really excited to play UConn again,” she said. “I think it’s awesome to be able to play against some of the best players in the country.”
Photo by Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics