By: Steve Miller – Sports Editor
The final buzzer loomed in a tie game on Jan. 21 between the Flyers and Saint Joseph’s. Point guard Jenna Burdette whipped a hard pass down low to senior center Saicha Grant-Allen, who went up for the would-be game-winning layup. Her touch was just too strong off the backboard.
But with 13 points and 16 rebounds, it was largely Grant-Allen who kept Dayton in that game. That is the kind of consistent play that has sculpted Grant-Allen into the backbone leader she is for UD’s women’s basketball team.
“It’s a credit to her and her work ethic and her determination of ‘I want to be the best player that I can be.’,” head coach Shauna Green said of her senior in a recent interview with Flyer News. “And she’s always been a hard worker. She’s put countless hours in outside of practice working on her game and developing.”
Grant-Allen, who has started every game in the past two seasons, leads the team with 219 rebounds this year and averages 9.8 points per game.
And in a Feb. 1 game at Davidson, she grabbed her 264th career offensive rebound, setting a new school record.
But those statistical accomplishments have only come recently for the senior.
“I said after the game when she broke the record at Davidson, in the locker room in front of the team, ‘Saicha, how much did you play your freshman year?’,” Green recounted. “She went ‘Zip, didn’t.’ And I just wanted to make a point. And then [I said] sophomore year, how much did you play. [She said] ‘A little bit.’ And then last year, I don’t know how many minutes [she had], but now she’s our go-to, and really a staple on both ends.”
Grant-Allen’s journey to success at UD started when she was in high school in her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario.
“I used to go to some exposure camps with my AAU team back in Canada,” Grant-Allen said. “So that allowed me to be seen [by Dayton].”
“I was definitely going to the states for basketball,” she added. “South Florida was [another school] I was thinking of, as well as Nebraska.”
Former Dayton head coach Jim Jabir recruited her out of Ontario, but Green played a role in Grant-Allen’s development since she served as an assistant under Jabir from 2012-15.
Grant-Allen averaged nine minutes per game in her freshman year and 18 the next, in which UD made a run to the Elite Eight.
Last year, she averaged 28.8 minutes each game and led the team in rebounds. This year, she is on track to do the same.
Rebounds have long been part of the game for the 6-foot-5 Grant-Allen. Though as natural as they are for her, the center’s success on the boards is a vital part of the success of this team.
She has 99 offensive rebounds this season alone, and recorded seven of the team’s 20 in the January home win over St. Joseph’s.
“They’ve been such a presence on the [offensive] boards, which has won us games consistently,” Green said, grouping Grant-Allen with teammates JaVonna Layfield and Alex Harris, who each have more than 60 offensive rebounds this year. “It’s been the determining factor in a lot of games for us.”
Offensive rebounds, while a nice statistic, are indicative of an offensive failure–missed shots. Much of UD’s success comes from the shooting of perimeter guards like Kelley Austria and Jenna Burdette, who have contributed to the Flyers’ 173 successful three-point attempts this year.
But when those shots don’t fall, it’s up to the bigs down low to keep Dayton’s offense alive.
“We have plays that we’re looking to go inside to Saicha…but a lot of it’s just off our action,” said Green of Grant-Allen’s offensive opportunities. “But she makes plays. That’s effort, that’s just determination, like ‘Hey, I’m getting the ball.’ And she’s athletic enough, and tall enough. And she’s making plays when she has to.”
“All of our offenses have the ability to have an inside-out game, so that allows us to be able to find the person who’s hot,” Grant-Allen said. “And if [they miss], we have rebounders.”
While her role as a rebounder may give the appearance of Grant-Allen playing second fiddle to the guards, her focus on staying in her lane is exactly what drives the team.
“I think everyone has accepted the roles on this team and has really tried to work their hardest to make sure they accomplish [their roles],” Grant-Allen said. And just like a rebound, her role as a leader fell right to her.
“As people graduated, different roles changed. Before, we had Ally [Malott] and [Andrea] Hoover, and they were quite vocal,” Grant-Allen said. “So with people coming in and new roles being filled, for me at least, I like to lead through energy and be very vocal on the court and off the court.”
Though Grant-Allen has fully cemented herself as a leader in the locker room and on the score sheet, her humility has remained unchanged. Just ask her about her record-breaking offensive rebound.
“I had absolutely no idea,” she said about breaking the record. “It wasn’t until after the game that I was made aware about it. So it was a cool accomplishment.”
And from here on out, it’s just about winning for Grant-Allen and the team, who have played under Green’s mantra of “one game a time” all year.
“My goal is the team’s goal of [an] A-10 [Championship],” Grant-Allen said. “That’s focusing on this team and exerting all my energy onto our goal and end up impacting everybody in a positive manner.”
Beyond college, Grant-Allen would like to play professionally. But her focus now is on the Flyers.
“I just trust the process,” she said. “The chips will fall where they may.”
Photo Courtesy of Andrew Wong – Staff Photographer